Public Policy Briefs
Public Policy Brief No. 154 | February 2021
Let Us Look Seriously at the Clearing UnionThis policy brief explores a route to remaking the international financial system that would avoid the contradictions inherent in some of the prevailing reform proposals currently under discussion. Senior Scholar Jan Kregel argues that the willingness of central banks to consider electronic currency provides an opening to reconsider a truly innovative reform of the international financial system, and one that is more appropriate to a digital monetary world: John Maynard Keynes’s original clearing union proposal.
Kregel investigates whether such a clearing system could be built up from an already-existing initiative that has emerged in the private sector. He analyzes the operations of a private, cross-border payment system that could serve as a real-world blueprint for a more politically palatable equivalent of Keynes’s international clearing union.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 153 | September 2020After spending over 6 percent of GDP responding to the COVID-19 crisis, Brazil has suffered among the worst per capita numbers in the world in terms of cases and deaths. In this policy brief, Luiza Nassif-Pires, Laura Carvalho, and Eduardo Rawet explore how stark inequalities along racial, regional, and class lines can help account for why the pandemic has had such a damaging impact on Brazil. Although they find that fiscal policy measures have so far neutralized the impact of the crisis with respect to income inequality, the existence of structural inequalities along racial lines in particular have resulted in an unequally shared public health burden. Broader policy changes are necessary for addressing dimensions of inequality that are rooted in structural racism.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Luiza Nassif Pires Laura Carvalho Eduardo RawetRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 152 | August 2020The mainstream fiscal federalism literature has led to an instinctive belief that states receiving fiscal aid during a recession are taking advantage of the federal government in pursuit of localized benefits with dispersed costs. This policy brief by Alex Williams challenges this unreflective argument and, in response, offers a novel framework for understanding the relationship between the business cycle and fiscal federalism in the United States.
Utilizing the work of Michael Pettis, Williams demonstrates that a government unable to design its own capital structure is not meaningfully an agent with respect to the business cycle. As such, they cannot be considered agents in a moral hazard problem when receiving support from the federal government during a recession.
From the perspective of this policy brief, the operative moral hazard problem is one in which federal-level politicians reap a political benefit from a seemingly principled refusal to increase federal spending, while avoiding blame for crisis and austerity at the state and local government level. Williams’ proposed solution is to impose macroeconomic discipline on federal policymakers by creating automatic stabilizers that take decisions about the level of state fiscal aid in a recession out of their hands.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Alex WilliamsRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 151 | June 2020
Recent Experience and Future Prospects in the Post-COVID-19 EraThis policy brief provides a discussion of the relationships between austerity, Greece’s macroeconomic performance, debt sustainability, and the provision of healthcare and other social services over the last decade. It explains that austerity was imposed in the name of debt sustainability. However, there was a vicious cycle of recession and austerity: each round of austerity measures led to a deeper recession, which increased the debt-to-GDP ratio and therefore undermined the goal of debt sustainability, leading to another round of austerity. One of the effects of these austerity policies was the significant reduction in healthcare expenditure, which made Greece more vulnerable to the recent pandemic. Finally, it shows how recent pre-COVID debt sustainability analyses projected that Greek public debt would become unsustainable even under minor deviations from an optimistic baseline. The pandemic shock will thus lead to an explosion of public debt. This brings the need for a restructuring of the Greek public debt to the fore once again, as well as other policies that will address the eurozone’s structural imbalances.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 150 | June 2020According to Senior Scholar Jan Kregel and Paolo Savona, attempting to maintain the status quo in the face of the introduction of some recent technological innovations—chiefly cryptocurrencies and associated instruments based on distributed ledger technology, the deployment of artificial intelligence, and the use of data science in financial markets—will create risks that increase instability and threaten national financial systems. In this policy brief, they analyze the impacts of these innovations on the present institutional environment and outline an appropriate regulatory framework. Kregel and Savona argue that a public monopoly on the issuance of cryptocurrency could promote financial stability and help repair the dissociation between finance and the real economy.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Jan Kregel Paolo SavonaRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 149 | April 2020The costs of the COVID-19 pandemic—in terms of both the health risks and economic burdens—will be borne disproportionately by the most vulnerable segments of US society. In this public policy brief, Luiza Nassif-Pires, Laura de Lima Xavier, Thomas Masterson, Michalis Nikiforos, and Fernando Rios-Avila demonstrate that the COVID-19 crisis is likely to widen already-worrisome levels of income, racial, and gender inequality in the United States. Minority and low-income populations are more likely to develop severe infections that can lead to hospitalization and death due to COVID-19; they are also more likely to experience job losses and declines in their well-being.
The authors argue that our policy response to the COVID-19 crisis must target these unequally shared burdens—and that a failure to mitigate the regressive impact of the crisis will not only be unjust, it will prolong the pandemic and undermine any ensuing economic recovery efforts. As the authors note, we are in danger of falling victim to a vicious cycle: the pandemic and economic lockdown will worsen inequality; and these inequalities exacerbate the spread of the virus, not to mention further weaken the structure of the US economy.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 148 | January 2020In this policy brief, Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argue that assessing the “affordability” of the Green New Deal is a question of whether there are suitable and sufficient real resources than can be mobilized to implement this ambitious approach to climate policy. Only after a careful resource accounting can we address the question of whether taxes and other means might be needed to reduce private spending to avoid inflation as the Green New Deal is phased in.
Nersisyan and Wray provide a first attempt at resource budgeting for the Green New Deal, weighing available resources—including potential excess capacity and resources that can be shifted away from existing production—against what will be needed to implement the major elements of this plan to fight climate change and ensure a just transition to a more sustainable economic model.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 147 | March 2019As global market integration collides with growing demands for national political sovereignty, Senior Scholar Jan Kregel contrasts two diametrically opposed approaches to managing the tensions between international financial coordination and national autonomy. The first, a road not taken, is John Maynard Keynes’s proposal to reform the postwar international financial system. The second is the approach taken in the establishment of the eurozone and the development of its settlement and payment system. Analysis of Keynes’s clearing union proposal and its underlying theoretical approach highlights the flaws of the current eurozone setup.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 146 | August 2018
Post-2000 Trends in the United StatesAjit Zacharias, Thomas Masterson, and Fernando Rios-Avila update the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) for US households for the period 2000–13. The LIMEW—which comprises base income, income from wealth, net government expenditures, and the value of household production—is aimed at achieving a more comprehensive understanding of trends in living standards. This policy brief analyzes developments during this period at all levels of the LIMEW distribution, with a particular focus on the significant role played by net government expenditures. The overall trend for 2000–13 was one of historic stagnation in the growth of economic well-being for US households, but an examination of the different components of the measure reveals significant shifts taking place behind this headline trend.
A companion document, the Supplemental Tables, features additional data referenced in the policy brief.
Details about the sources of data and methods used to construct the estimates in this policy brief are discussed in Levy Institute Working Paper No. 912.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 145 | June 2018
An Assessment and an Alternative ProposalIn response to a proposal put forward by the European Commission for the regulation of sovereign bond-backed securities (SBBSs), Mario Tonveronachi provides his analysis of the SBBS scheme and attendant regulatory proposal, and elaborates on an alternative approach to addressing the problems that have motivated this high-level consideration of an SBBS framework.
As this policy brief explains, it is doubtful the SBBS proposal would produce its intended results. Tonveronachi’s alternative, discussed in Levy Institute Public Policy Briefs Nos. 137 and 140, not only better addresses the two problems targeted by the SBBS scheme, but also a third, critical defect of the current euro system: national sovereign debt sustainability.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Mario TonveronachiRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 144 | September 2017
A Radical Proposal Based on Keynes’s Clearing UnionIn light of the problems besetting the eurozone, this policy brief examines the contributions of John Maynard Keynes and Richard Kahn to early debates over the design of the postwar international financial system. Their critical engagement with the early policy challenges associated with managing international settlements offers a perspective from which to analyze the flaws in the current euro-based financial system, and Keynes’s clearing union proposal offers a template for a better approach. A system of regional federations employing a clearing system in which members either retained their own currency or used a common currency as a unit of account in registering debits and credits for settlement purposes would preserve domestic policy independence and retain regional diversity.
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Public Policy Brief No. 143 | February 2017
Since inheriting the Brazilian presidency five months ago, the new Temer administration has successfully ratified a constitutional amendment imposing a radical, two-decades-long public spending freeze, purportedly aimed at sparking an increase in business confidence and investment. In this policy brief, Fernando Cardim de Carvalho explains why this fiscal strategy is based not only on a flawed conception of the drivers of private-sector confidence and investment but also on a mistaken view of the roots of the current Brazilian economic crisis. The hoped-for “expansionary fiscal consolidation” is not likely to be achieved.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 142 | February 2017
Flavia Dantas and L. Randall Wray argue that the emerging conventional wisdom—that the US economy has reached full employment—is flawed. The unemployment rate is not providing an accurate picture of the health of the labor market, and the common narrative attributing shrinking labor force engagement to aging demographics is overstated. Instead, falling prime-age participation rates are the symptom of a structural inadequacy of aggregate demand—a problem of insufficient job creation and stagnant incomes that conventional public policy remedies have been unable to address. The solution to our long-running secular stagnation requires targeted, direct job creation for those at the bottom of the income scale.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Flavia Dantas L. Randall WrayRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 141 | March 2016View More View LessTo the extent that policymakers have learned anything at all from the Great Depression and the policy responses of the 1930s, the lessons appear to have been the wrong ones. In this public policy brief, Director of Research Jan Kregel explains why there is still a great deal we have to learn from the New Deal. He illuminates one of the New Deal’s principal objectives—quelling the fear and uncertainty of mass unemployment—and the pragmatic, experimental process through which the tool for achieving this objective—directed government expenditure—came to be embraced.
In the search for a blueprint from the 1930s, Kregel suggests that too much attention has been paid to the measures deployed to shore up the banking system, and that the approaches underlying the emergency financial policy measures of the recent period and those of the 1930s were actually quite similar. The more meaningful divergence between the 1930s and the post-2008 policy response, he argues, can be uncovered by comparing the actions that were taken (or not taken, as the case may be) to address the real sector of the economy following the resolution of the respective financial crises.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 140 | November 2015View More View Less
Mario Tonveronachi, University of Siena, builds on his earlier proposal (The ECB and the Single European Financial Market) to advance financial market integration in Europe through the creation of a single benchmark yield curve based on debt certificates (DCs) issued by the European Central Bank (ECB). In this policy brief, Tonveronachi discusses potential changes to the ECB’s operations and their implications for member-state fiscal rules. He argues that his DC proposal would maintain debt discipline while mitigating the restrictive, counterproductive fiscal stance required today, simultaneously expanding national fiscal space while ensuring debt sustainability under the Maastricht limits, and offering a path out of the self-defeating policy regime currently in place.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Mario TonveronachiRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 139 | February 2015View More View Less
Back to the FutureEmerging market economies are taking an ill-targeted and far too limited approach to addressing their ongoing problems with the international financial system, according to Senior Scholar Jan Kregel. In this policy brief, he explains why only a wholesale reform of the international financial architecture can adequately address these countries’ concerns. As a blueprint for reform, Kregel recommends a radical proposal advanced in the 1940s, most notably by John Maynard Keynes.Keynes was among those who were developing proposals for shaping the international financial system in the immediate postwar period. His clearing union plan, itself inspired by Hjalmar Schacht’s system of bilateral clearing agreements, would have effectively eliminated the need for an international reserve currency. Under Keynes’s clearing union, trade and other international payments would be automatically facilitated through a global clearinghouse, using debits and credits denominated in a notional unit of account. The unit of account would have a fixed conversion rate to national currencies and could not be bought, sold, or traded—meaning no market for foreign currency would be required. Clearinghouse credits could only be used to offset debits by buying imports, and if not used within a specified period of time, the credits would be extinguished, giving export surplus countries an incentive to spend them. As Kregel points out, this would help support global demand and enable a shared adjustment burden.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 138 | October 2014To mobilize Greece’s severely underemployed labor potential and confront the social and economic dangers of persistent unemployment, we propose the immediate implementation of a direct public benefit job creation program—a Greek “New Deal.” The Job Guarantee (JG) program would offer the unemployed jobs, at a minimum wage, on work projects providing public goods and services. This policy would have substantial positive economic impacts in terms of output and employment, and when newly accrued tax revenue is taken into account, which substantially reduces the net cost of the program, it makes for a comparatively modest fiscal stimulus. At a net cost of roughly 1 percent to 1.2 percent of GDP (depending on the wage level offered), a midrange JG program featuring the direct creation of 300,000 jobs has the potential to reduce the unemployed population by a third or more, once indirect employment effects are taken into account. And our research indicates that the policy would do all this while reducing Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio—which leaves little room for excuses.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 137 | September 2014
A Proposal to Repair Half of a Flawed DesignThe flaws of the Maastrict Treaty are a frequent object of commentary but, as yet, Europe remains unable—or, perhaps more accurately, unwilling—to address these flaws. The European project will remain unfinished and the ability of the European Central Bank to implement effective monetary policies will continue to be hobbled. As Mario Tonveronachi observes in this public policy brief, Europe has a currency union, but this does not mean that Europe has achieved a single financial market, an essential element for a functioning union. He reminds us that a single European market requires pricing in relation to common risk-free assets rather than in relation to a collection of individual idiosyncratic sovereign rates. And financial operators must have access to the same risk-free assets for trading and liquidity operations. The euro provides neither of these functions, and thus, while there has been a measure of convergence, a single financial market, and the financial integration it represents, remains unachieved.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Mario TonveronachiRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 136 | August 2014
Assessing the Korean Experience Using the Levy Institute Measure of Time and Income PovertyIn partnership with the Korea Employment Information Service, Senior Scholar Ajit Zacharias and Research Scholars Thomas Masterson and Kijong Kim investigate the complex issues of gender, changing labor market conditions, and the public provisioning of child care in Korea using the Levy Institute Measure of Time and Income Poverty (LIMTIP), an alternative measure that factors in both time and income deficits in the assessment of poverty.Since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, lifetime employment and single-breadwinner households have given way to increased job insecurity, flexible work arrangements, and rapid growth in dual-earner households in Korea. Add to these factors rising labor force participation by women but little change in the highly unequal division of household production, and many women effectively face a double shift each day: paid employment followed by a second shift of household production.Recognizing the implications of the heavy burden of care work for women’s well-being and employment, Korea introduced public child-care provisioning, via a voucher system for low-income families, in 1992 (the program became universal in 2013). This study analyzes the impact of the voucher program on reducing time and income poverty, and reassesses the overall level of poverty in Korea. While it reveals a much higher level of poverty than official estimates indicate—7.9 percent versus 2.6 percent—due to time deficits, the outsourcing of child-care services reduced the LIMTIP rate from 7.9 percent to 7.5 percent and the number of “hidden poor” individuals from two million to 1.8 million. While these results show that the problem of time poverty in Korea extends beyond child-care needs, the impact of public provisioning through the voucher program clearly has had a positive impact on families with children.Download:Associated Program(s):The Distribution of Income and Wealth Gender Equality and the Economy The Levy Institute Measure of Time and Income PovertyAuthor(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 135 | August 2014Contrary to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent claim, the euro crisis is not nearly over but remains unresolved, leaving the eurozone extraordinarily vulnerable to renewed stresses. In fact, as the reforms agreed to so far have failed to turn the flawed and dysfunctional euro regime into a viable one, the current calm in financial markets is deceiving, and unlikely to last.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 134 | June 2014
This September, voters in Scotland will decide whether to break away from the United Kingdom. If supporters of independence carry the day, pivotal choices that affect the scope of Scotland’s economic sovereignty and its future relationship to the UK will need to be made, particularly with respect to the question of its currency. As the disaster in the eurozone makes clear, it is essential to get these arrangements right.
In this policy brief, Philip Pilkington outlines a monetary framework designed to meet the macroeconomic challenges that would be faced by a newly separate Scotland. His conclusion: while it would be in Scotland’s best interests to continue using the sterling in the short run, making the transition to issuing its own, freely floating currency would place the country on a more stable economic footing.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Philip PilkingtonRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 133 | May 2014View More View LessThe “happy talk” emanating from eurozone officials regarding the economic crises in the periphery deserves some vigorous pushback. Focusing on the four bailed-out countries of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, Research Associate and Policy Fellow C. J. Polychroniou argues in this policy brief that, contrary to the burgeoning optimism in official communications, these countries’ economies are still not on track for vigorous, sustainable recoveries in growth and employment—and that there is nothing surprising in this result.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. PolychroniouRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 132 | May 2014Gauging the severity of poverty in a given country requires a reasonably comprehensive measurement of whether individuals and households are surpassing some basic threshold of material well-being. This would seem to be an obvious point, and yet, in most cases, our official poverty metrics fail that test, often due to a crucial omission. In this policy brief, Senior Scholar Ajit Zacharias, Research Scholar Thomas Masterson, and Research Associate Emel Memiş present an alternative measure of poverty for Turkey and lay out the policy lessons that follow. Their research reveals that the number of people living in poverty and the severity of their deprivation have been significantly underestimated. This report is part of an ongoing Levy Institute project on time poverty (the Levy Institute Measure of Time and Income Poverty), which has produced research on Latin America, Korea, and now Turkey, with the aim of extending this approach to other countries.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 131 | April 2014
In the context of current debates about the proper form of prudential regulation and proposals for the imposition of liquidity and capital ratios, Senior Scholar Jan Kregel examines Hyman Minsky’s work as a consultant to government agencies exploring financial regulatory reform in the 1960s. As Kregel explains, this often-overlooked early work, a precursor to Minsky’s “financial instability hypothesis”(FIH), serves as yet another useful guide to explaining why regulation and supervision in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis were flawed—and why the approach to reregulation after the crisis has been incomplete.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 130 | January 2014In our era of global finance, the theory of aggregate demand management is alive and unwell, says Amit Bhaduri. In this policy brief, Bhaduri describes what he regards as a prevalent contemporary approach to demand management. Detached from its Keynesian roots, this “vulgar” version of demand management theory is being used to justify policies that stand in stark contrast to those prescribed by the original Keynesian model. Rising asset prices and private-debt-fueled consumption play the starring roles, while fiscal policy retreats into the background.
Returning to foundations laid down by Keynes and Kalecki, Bhaduri sets out to clarify whether there is any place for traditional demand management policies—featuring an active role for deficit spending and public investment—in the context of financial globalization. His conclusion: such policies are ultimately unavoidable if we are to revitalize the real economy and achieve stability.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Amit BhaduriRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 129 | April 2013This policy brief by Senior Scholar and Program Director Jan Kregel builds on an earlier analysis (Policy Note 2012/6) of JPMorgan Chase and the actions of the “London Whale,” and what this episode reveals about the larger risks inherent in the financial system. It is clear that the Dodd-Frank Act failed to prevent massive losses by one of the world’s largest banks. This is undeniable evidence that work remains to be done to reform the financial system. Toward this end, Kregel reviews the findings of a recent report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and expands on the lessons that we can draw from the evolution of the London Whale episode.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 128 | April 2013
Is There Space to Promote Gender Equality in the Evolution of Social Protection?Social protection systems comprise public policies designed to prevent or alleviate economic insecurity and poverty. Throughout the developing world, social protection strategies and the dialogue surrounding them have recently been undergoing an important evolution. In this policy brief, Senior Scholar and Director of the Gender Equality and the Economy program Rania Antonopoulos highlights the opportunities and challenges for promoting gender equality and empowerment within this shifting policy landscape. Developed with financial support from the United Nations Development Programme, this brief is intended as an advocacy tool in the service of amplifying gender-informed policy considerations in country-level social protection debates.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 127 | November 2012The United States must make a fundamental choice in its economic policy in the next few months, a choice that will shape the US economy for years to come. Pundits and policymakers are divided over how to address what is widely referred to as the “fiscal cliff,” a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that will further weaken the domestic economy. Will the United States continue its current, misguided, policy of implementing European-style austerity measures, and the economic contraction that is the inevitable consequence of such policies? Or will it turn aside from the fiscal cliff, using a combination of its sovereign currency system and Keynesian fiscal policy to strengthen aggregate demand?
Our analysis presents a model of what we call the “fiscal trap”—a self-imposed spiral of economic contraction resulting from a fundamental misunderstanding of the role and function of fiscal policy in times of economic weakness. Within this framework, we begin our analysis with the disastrous results of austerity policies in the European Union (EU) and the UK. Our account of these policies and their results is meant as a cautionary tale for the United States, not as a model.
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Public Policy Brief No. 126 | November 2012
Why Time Deficits Matter for Poverty
We cannot adequately assess how much or how little progress we have made in addressing the condition of the most vulnerable in our societies, or provide accurate guidance to policymakers intent on improving each individual’s and household’s ability to reach a basic standard of living, if we do not have a reliable means of measuring who is being left behind. With the support of the United Nations Development Programme and the International Labour Organization, Senior Scholars Rania Antonopoulos and Ajit Zacharias and Research Scholar Thomas Masterson have constructed an alternative measure of poverty that, when applied to the cases of Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, reveals significant blind spots in the official numbers.Download:Associated Program(s):The Levy Institute Measure of Time and Income Poverty The Distribution of Income and Wealth Gender Equality and the EconomyAuthor(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 125 | August 2012
No Solution for Financial ReformBefore the law has even been fully implemented, the inadequacies of the regulatory approach underlying the Dodd-Frank Act are becoming more and more apparent. Financial scandal by financial scandal, the realization is hardening that there is a pressing need to search for more robust regulatory alternatives.
The real challenge for financial reform is to develop a vision for a financial structure that would simplify the system and the activities of financial institutions so that they can be regulated and supervised effectively. Some paths to such simplification, however, are not worth treading. Against the backdrop of renewed present-day interest in the Depression-era “Chicago Plan,” featuring 100 percent reserve backing for deposits, Senior Scholar Jan Kregel turns to Hyman Minsky’s consideration of a similar “narrow banking” proposal in the mid-1990s. For reasons that eventually led Minsky himself to abandon the proposal, as well as reasons developed here by Kregel that have even more pressing relevance in today’s political climate, plans for a narrow banking system are found wanting.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 124 | May 2012
The Link between the State and the Macroeconomy, and the Disastrous Effects of the European Policy of Austerity
Conventional wisdom has calcified around the belief that the countries in the eurozone periphery are in trouble primarily because of their governments’ allegedly profligate ways. For most of these nations, however, the facts suggest otherwise. Apart from the case of Greece, the outbreak of the eurozone crisis largely preceded dramatic increases in public debt ratios, and as has been emphasized in previous Levy Institute publications, the roots of the crisis lie far more in the flawed design of the European Monetary Union and the imbalances it has generated.
But as Research Associate and Policy Fellow C. J. Polychroniou demonstrates in this policy brief, domestic political developments should not be written out of the recent history of the eurozone’s stumbles toward crisis and possible dissolution. However, the part in this tale played by southern European political regimes is quite the opposite of that which is commonly claimed or implied in the press. Instead of out-of-control, overly generous progressive agendas, the countries at the core of the crisis in southern Europe—Greece, Spain, and Portugal—have seen their macroeconomic environments shaped by the dominance of regressive political regimes and an embrace of neoliberal policies; an embrace, says Polychroniou, that helped contribute to the unenviable position their economies find themselves in today.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. PolychroniouRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 123 | April 2012
The extraordinary scope and magnitude of the financial crisis of 2007–09 required an extraordinary response by the Federal Reserve in the fulfillment of its lender-of-last-resort (LOLR) function. In an attempt to stabilize financial markets during the worst financial crisis since the Great Crash of 1929, the Fed engaged in loans, guarantees, and outright purchases of financial assets that were not only unprecedented, but cumulatively amounted to over twice current US GDP as well. the purpose of this brief is to provide a descriptive account of the Fed's response to the recent crisis—to delineate the essential characteristics and logistical specifics of the veritable "alphabet soup" of LOLR machinery rolled out to save the world financial system. It represents the most comprehensive investigation of the raw data to date, one that draws on three discrete measures: the peak outstanding commitment at a given point in time; the total peak flow of commitments (loans plus asset purchases), which helps identify periods of maximum financial system distress; and, finally, the total amouunt of loans and asset purchases made between January 2007 and March 2012. This third number, which is a cumulative measure, reveals that the total Fed response exceeded $29 trillion. Providing this account from such varying angles is a necessary first step in any attempt to fully understand the actions of the central bank in this critical period—and a prerequisite for thinking about how to shape policy for future crises.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):James Andrew FelkersonRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 122 | February 2012President Dimitri B. Papadimitriou and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argue that the common diagnosis of a “sovereign debt crisis” ignores the crucial role of rising private debt loads and the significance of current account imbalances within the eurozone. Profligate spending in the periphery is not at the root of the problem. Moreover, pushing austerity in the periphery while ignoring the imbalances within the eurozone is a recipe for deflationary disaster.
The various rescue packages on offer for Greece will not ultimately solve the problem, say the authors, and a default is a very real possibility. If a new approach is not embraced, we are likely seeing the end of the European Monetary Union (EMU) as it currently stands. The consequences of a breakup would ripple throughout the EMU as well as the shaky US financial system, and could ultimately trigger the next global financial crisis.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 121 | November 2011
Who Pays for the European Sovereign and Subprime Mortgage Losses?
In the context of the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis and the US subprime mortgage crisis, Senior Scholar Jan Kregel looks at the question of how we ought to distribute losses between borrowers and lenders in cases of debt resolution. Kregel tackles a prominent approach to this question that is grounded in an analysis of individual action and behavioral characteristics, an approach that tends toward the conclusion that the borrower should be responsible for making creditors whole. The presumption behind this style of analysis is that the borrower—the purportedly deceitful subprime mortgagee or supposedly profligate Greek—is the cause of the loss, and therefore should bear the entire burden.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 120 | October 2011
The Minskyan Lessons We Failed to Learn
Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray lays out the numerous and critical ways in which we have failed to learn from the latest global financial crisis, and identifies the underlying trends and structural vulnerabilities that make it likely a new crisis is right around the corner. Wray also suggests some policy changes that would shore up the financial system while reinvigorating the real economy, including the clear separation of commercial and investment banking, and a universal job guarantee.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):Commercial banking Control fraud Employer of Last Resort (ELR) policy Employment guarantee Financial instability Financialization Full employment policy Global financial crisis Hyman Minsky Investment banking Monetary policy Money manager capitalism Securitization Shadow banking Subprime mortgage crisis
Public Policy Brief No. 119 | August 2011
The export-led growth paradigm is a development strategy aimed at growing productive capacity by focusing on foreign markets. It rose to prominence in the late 1970s and became part of a new consensus among economists about the benefits of economic openness.
According to Thomas I. Palley, this paradigm is no longer relevant because of changed conditions in both emerging-market (EM) and developed economies. He outlines the stages of the export-led growth paradigm leading to its adoption worldwide, as well as the various critiques of this agenda that have become increasingly prescient. He concludes that we should reduce reliance on strategies aimed at attracting export-oriented foreign direct investment and institute a new paradigm based on a domestic demand–led growth model. Otherwise, the global economy is likely to experience asymmetric stagnation and increased economic tensions between EM and industrialized economies.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Thomas I. PalleyRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 118 | April 2011
Four Fragile Markets, Four Years Later
In this brief, Research Scholar Greg Hannsgen and President Dimitri B. Papadimitriou focus on the risks and possibilities ahead for the US economy. Using a Keynesian approach and drawing from the commentary of other observers, they analyze publicly available data in order to assess the strength and durability of the expansion that probably began in 2009. They focus on four broad groups of markets that have shown signs of stress for the last several years: financial markets, markets for household goods and services, commodity markets, and labor markets. This kind of analysis does not yield numerical forecasts but it can provide important clues about the short-term outlook for the country’s economic well-being, and cast light on some longer-run threats. In particular, dangers and stresses in the financial and banking systems are presently very serious, and labor market data show every sign of a widespread and severe weakness in aggregate demand. Unless there is new resolve for effective government action on the jobs front, drastic cuts in much-needed federal, state, and local programs will become the order of the day in the United States, as in much of Europe.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 117 | April 2011
Scott Fullwiler and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray review the roles of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury in the context of quantitative easing, and find that the financial crisis has highlighted the limited oversight of Congress and the limited transparency of the Fed. And since a Fed promise is ultimately a Treasury promise that carries the full faith and credit of the US government, the question is whether the Fed should be able to commit the public purse in times of national crisis.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Scott Fullwiler L. Randall WrayRelated Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 116 | October 2010View More View Less
The stability of the international reserve currency’s purchasing power is less a question of what serves as that currency and more a question of the international adjustment mechanism, as well as the compatibility of export-led development strategies with international payment balances. According to Senior Scholar Jan Kregel, export-led growth and free capital flows are the real causes of sustained international imbalances. The only way out of this predicament is to shift to domestic demand–led development strategies—and capital flows will have to be part of the solution.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 115 | September 2010
A Minskyan Analysis
In this new brief, Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray examines the later works of Hyman P. Minsky, with a focus on Minsky’s general approach to financial institutions and policy.
The New Deal reforms of the 1930s strengthened the financial system by separating investment banks from commercial banks and putting in place government guarantees such as deposit insurance. But the system’s relative stability, and relatively high rate of economic growth, encouraged innovations that subverted those constraints over time. Financial wealth (and private debt) grew on trend, producing immense sums of money under professional management: we had entered what Minsky, in the early 1990s, labeled the “money manager” phase of capitalism. With help from the government, power was consolidated in a handful of huge firms that provided the four main financial services: commercial banking, payments services, investment banking, and mortgages. Brokers didn’t have a fiduciary responsibility to act in their clients’ best interests, while financial institutions bet against households, firms, and governments. By the early 2000s, says Wray, banking had strayed far from the (Minskyan) notion that it should promote the capital development of the economy.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 114 | August 2010In this new brief, President Dimitri B. Papadimitriou and Research Scholar Greg Hannsgen evaluate the current path of fiscal deficits in the United States in the context of government debt and further spending, economic recovery, and unemployment. They are adamant that there is no justification for the belief that cutting spending or raising taxes will reduce the federal deficit, let alone permit solid growth. The worst fears about recent stimulative policies and rapid money-supply growth are proving to be incorrect once again. In the authors’ view, we must find the will to reinvigorate government and to maintain Keynesian macro stimulus in the face of ideological opposition and widespread mistrust of government.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 113 | July 2010
Without Major Restructuring, the Eurozone Is Doomed
Critics argue that the current crisis has exposed the profligacy of the Greek government and its citizens, who are stubbornly fighting proposed social spending cuts and refusing to live within their means. Yet Greece has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the European Union (EU), and its social safety net is modest compared to the rest of Europe. Since implementing its austerity program in January, it has reduced its budget deficit by 40 percent, largely through spending cuts. But slower growth is causing revenues to come in below targets, and fuel-tax increases have contributed to growing inflation. As the larger troubled economies like Spain and Italy also adopt austerity measures, the entire continent could find government revenues collapsing.
No rescue plan can address the central problem: that countries with very different economies are yoked to the same currency. Lacking a sovereign currency and unable to devalue their way out of trouble, they are left with few viable options—and voters in Germany and France will soon tire of paying the bill. A more far-reaching solution is needed.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 112 | June 2010Senior Scholar James K. Galbraith argues the fundamental illusion of viewing the US economy through the free-market prism of deregulation, privatization, and a benevolent government operating mainly through monetary stabilization—the prevailing view among economists over the past three decades. The real sources of American economic power, he says, lie with those who manage and control the public‑private sectors—especially the public institutions in those sectors—and who often have a political agenda in hand. Galbraith calls this the predator state: a government that is intent, not upon restructuring the rules in any idealistic way, but upon using the existing institutions as a device for political patronage on a grand scale. And it is closely aligned with financial deregulation.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 111 | May 2010
Why We Should Stop Worrying About U.S. Government DeficitsThis brief by Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argues that deficits do not burden future generations with debt, nor do they crowd out private spending. The authors base their conclusions on the premise that a sovereign nation with its own currency cannot become insolvent, and that government financing is unlike that of a household or firm. Moreover, they observe that automatic stabilizers, not government bailouts and the stimulus package, have prevented the US economic contraction from devolving into another Great Depression. The authors dispense with unsubstantiated concerns about deficits and debts, noting that they mask the real issue: the unwillingness of deficit hawks to allow government to work for the good of the people.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 110 | March 2010
The United States has the most expensive health care system in the world, yet its system produces inferior outcomes relative to those in other countries. This brief examines the health care reform debate and argues that the basic structure of the health care system is unlikely to change, because “reform” measures actually promote the status quo. The authors believe that the fundamental problem facing the US health care system is the unhealthy lifestyle of many Americans. They prefer to see a reduced role for private insurers and an increased role for government funding, along with greater public discussion of environmental and lifestyle factors. A Medicare buy-in (“public option”) for people under 65 would provide more cost control (by competing with private insurance), help to solve the problem of treatment denial based on preexisting conditions, expand the risk pool of patients, and enhance the global competitiveness of US corporations—thus bringing the US health care system closer to the “ideal” low-cost, universal (single-payer) insurance plan.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 109 | March 2010
Toward an Alternative Public Policy to Support Retirement
Pension funds have taken a big hit during the current financial crisis, with losses in the trillions of dollars. In addition, both private and public pensions are experiencing significant funding shortfalls, as is the government-run Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which insures the defined-benefit pension plans of private American companies. Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argue that the employment-based pension system is highly problematic, since the strategy for managing pension funds leads to excessive cost and risk in an effort to achieve above-average returns. The average fund manager, however, will only achieve the risk-free return. The authors therefore advocate expanding Social Security and encouraging private and public pensions to invest only in safe (risk-free) Treasury bonds—which, on average, will beat the net returns on risky assets.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 108 | February 2010
Why President Obama Should Care About “Care”: An Effective and Equitable Investment Strategy for Job CreationView More View LessIn his State of the Union address President Obama acknowledged that “our most urgent task is job creation”—that a move toward full employment will lay the foundation for long-term economic growth and ensure that the federal government creates the necessary conditions for businesses to expand and hire more workers. According to a new study by Levy scholars Rania Antonopoulos, Kijong Kim, Thomas Masterson, and Ajit Zacharias, the government needs to identify and invest in projects that have the potential for massive, and immediate, public job creation. They conclude that social sector investment, such as early childhood education and home-based care, would generate twice as many jobs as infrastructure spending and nearly 1.5 times the number created by investment in green energy, while catering to the most vulnerable segments of the workforce.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 107 | January 2010View More View Less
The purpose of the 1933 Banking Act—aka Glass-Steagall—was to prevent the exposure of commercial banks to the risks of investment banking and to ensure stability of the financial system. A proposed solution to the current financial crisis is to return to the basic tenets of this New Deal legislation.
Senior Scholar Jan Kregel provides an in-depth account of the Act, including the premises leading up to its adoption, its influence on the design of the financial system, and the subsequent collapse of the Act’s restrictions on securities trading (deregulation). He concludes that a return to the Act’s simple structure and strict segregation between (regulated) commercial and (unregulated) investment banking is unwarranted in light of ongoing questions about the commercial banks’ ability to compete with other financial institutions. Moreover, fundamental reform—the conflicting relationship between state and national charters and regulation—was bypassed by the Act.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 106 | November 2009
Social unrest across Europe is growing as Euroland’s economy collapses faster than the United States’, the result of falling exports and a weaker fiscal response. The controversial title of this brief is based on a belief that the nature of the euro itself limits Euroland’s fiscal policy space. The nations that have adopted the euro face “market-imposed” fiscal constraints on borrowing because they are not sovereign countries. Research Associate Stephanie A. Kelton and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray foresee a real danger that these nations will be unable to prevent an accelerating slide toward depression that will threaten the existence of the European Union.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 105 | October 2009
The Obama administration has implemented several policies to “jump-start” the American economy—efforts that have largely focused on preserving the financial interests of major banks. The authors of this new policy brief believe that maintaining the status quo is not the solution, since it overlooks the debt problems of households and nonfinancial businesses—and re-creating the financial conditions that led to disaster will simply set the stage for a recurrence of the Great Depression or a Japanese-style “lost decade.” They recommend a more radical policy agenda, such as federal spending programs that directly provide jobs and sustain employment, thereby helping to restore the creditworthiness of borrowers, the profitability of firms, and the fiscal position of state and federal budgets.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 104 | August 2009
Did Roosevelt’s “Anticompetitive” Legislation Slow the Recovery from the Great Depression?
A wave of revisionist work claims that “anticompetitive” New Deal legislation such as the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) greatly slowed the recovery from the Depression; in this new public policy brief, President Dimitri B. Papadimitriou and Research Scholar Greg Hannsgen review these claims in light of current policy debates and cast into doubt the argument that NIRA and NLRA significantly prolonged or worsened the Depression. Moreover, Social Security, federal deposit insurance, and other New Deal programs helped usher in an era of relative prosperity following World War II. When it comes to combating the current recession and employment slump, it is the successful experience with relief and public works, and not the repercussions of pro-union and regulatory legislation, that offer the most relevant and helpful lessons.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 103 | August 2009
A group of experts associated with the Economists for Peace and Security and the Initiative for Rethinking the Economy met recently in Paris to discuss financial and monetary issues; their viewpoints, summarized here by Senior Scholar James K. Galbraith, are largely at odds with the global political and economic establishment.
Despite noting some success in averting a catastrophic collapse of liquidity and a decline in output, the Paris group was pessimistic that there would be sustained economic recovery and a return of high employment. There was general consensus that the precrisis financial system should not be restored, that reviving the financial sector first was not the way to revive the economy, and that governments should not pursue exit strategies that permit a return to the status quo. Rather, the crisis exposes the need for profound reform to meet a range of physical and social objectives.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 102 | August 2009
Is the B Really Justified?
The term BRIC was first coined by Goldman Sachs and refers to the fast-growing developing economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China–a class of middle-income emerging market economies of relatively large size that are capable of self-sustained expansion. Their combined economies could exceed the combined economies of today’s richest countries by 2050. However, there are concerns about how the current financial crisis will affect the BRICs, and Goldman has questioned whether Brazil should remain within this group.
Senior Scholar Jan Kregel reviews the implications of the global crisis for developing countries, based on the factors driving global trade. He concludes that there is unlikely to be a return to the extremely positive conditions underlying the recent sharp increase in growth and external accounts. The key for developing countries is to transform from export-led to domestic demand-led growth, says Kregel. From this viewpoint, Brazil seems much better placed than the other BRIC countries.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 101 | June 2009
Lessons Learned from South Africa’s Expanded Public Works Programme
Beyond loss of income, joblessness is associated with greater poverty, marginalization, and social exclusion; the current global crisis is clearly not helping. In this new Public Policy Brief, Research Scholar Rania Antonopoulos explores the impact of both joblessness and employment expansion on poverty, paying particular attention to the gender aspects of poverty and poverty-reducing public employment schemes targeting poor women.
The author presents the results of a Levy Institute study that examines the macroeconomic consequences of scaling up South Africa’s Expanded Public Works Programme by adding to it a new sector for social service delivery in health and education. She notes that gaps in such services for households that cannot afford to pay for them are mostly filled by long hours of invisible, unpaid work performed by women and children. Her proposed employment creation program addresses several policy objectives: income and job generation, provisioning of communities’ unmet needs, skill enhancement for a new cadre of workers, and promotion of gender equality by addressing the overtaxed time of women.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 100 | April 2009View More View Less
The Federal Reserve’s response to the current financial crisis has been praised because it introduced a zero interest rate policy more rapidly than the Bank of Japan (during the Japanese crisis of the 1990s) and embraced massive “quantitative easing.” However, despite vast capital injections, the banking system is not lending in support of the private sector.
Senior Scholar Jan Kregel compares the current situation with the Great Depression, and finds an absence of New Deal measures and institutions in the current rescue packages. The lessons of the Great Depression suggest that any successful policy requires fundamental structural reform, an understanding of how the financial system failed, and the introduction of a new financial structure (in a short space of time) that is designed to correct these failures. The current crisis could have been avoided if increased household consumption had been financed through wage increases, says Kregel, and if financial institutions had used their earnings to augment bank capital rather than bonuses.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 99 | March 2009
In the current global financial crisis, economists and policymakers have reembraced Big Government as a means of preventing the reoccurrence of a debt-deflation depression. The danger, however, is that policy may not downsize finance and replace money manager capitalism. According to Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray, we need a permanently larger fiscal presence, with more public services. His advice to President Obama is to discard all of former Treasury Secretary Paulson’s actions. Wray believes that we can afford any necessary spending and bailouts, and that these actions will not burden our grandchildren.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 98 | February 2009
The Case Against Intergenerational Accounting: The Accounting Campaign Against Social Security and MedicareView More View Less
The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB) has proposed subjecting the entire federal budget to “intergenerational accounting”—which purports to calculate the debt burden our generation will leave for future generations—and is soliciting comments on the recommendations of its two “exposure drafts.” The authors of this brief find that intergenerational accounting is a deeply flawed and unsound concept that should play no role in federal government budgeting, and that arguments based on this concept do not support a case for cutting Social Security or Medicare.
The FASAB exposure drafts have not made a persuasive argument about basic matters of accounting, say the authors. Federal budget accounting should not follow the same procedures adopted by households or business firms because the government operates in the public interest, with the power to tax and issue money. There is no evidence, nor any economic theory, behind the proposition that government spending needs to match receipts. Social Security and Medicare spending need not be politically constrained by tax receipts—there cannot be any “underfunding.” What matters is the overall fiscal stance of the government, not the stance attributed to one part of the budget.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 97 | January 2009
The Outlook for Macroeconomics and Macroeconomic Policy
“Change” was the buzzword of the Obama campaign, in response to a political agenda precipitated by financial turmoil and a global economic crisis. According to Research Associate Thomas Palley, the neoliberal economic policy paradigm underlying that agenda must itself change if there is to be a successful policy response to the crisis. Mainstream economic theory remains unreformed, says Palley, and he warns of a return to failed policies if a deep crisis is averted. Since Post Keynesians accurately predicted that the US economy would implode from within, there is an opportunity for Post Keynesian economics to replace neoliberalism with a more successful approach.
Palley notes that there is significant disagreement among economic paradigms about how to ensure full employment and shared prosperity. A salient feature of the neoliberal economy is the disconnect between wages and productivity growth. Workers are boxed in on all sides by globalization, labor market flexibility, inflation concerns, and a belief in “small government” that has eroded economic rights and government services. Financialization, the economic foundation of neoliberalism, serves the interests of financial markets and top management. Thus, reversing the neoliberal paradigm will require a policy agenda that addresses financialization and ensures that financial markets and firms are more closely aligned with the greater public interest.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Thomas I. Palley
Public Policy Brief No. 96 | October 2008
Money Manager Capitalism and the Financialization of Commodities
Money manager capitalism—characterized by highly leveraged funds seeking maximum returns in an environment that systematically underprices risk—has resulted in a series of boom-and-bust cycles in equities, real estate, and commodities. Because subsequent cycles have been increasingly damaging to the broader economy, we are now at the point where we are experiencing the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression. Hasty interventions (bailouts) by Congress, the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve are attempting to keep the financial industry solvent, in the belief that government inaction would result in a prolonged recession.
In this new public policy brief, Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray shows how money manager capitalism (financialization) has destabilized one asset class after another. He concludes that policymakers must fundamentally change the structure of our economic system, break the cycle of booms and busts, and reduce the influence of managed money—as well as prevent the next speculative boom in yet another asset class.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 95 | August 2008
A bursting asset bubble inevitably requires central bank action, usually when it is already too late and with adverse spillover effects. In this sense, the Federal Reserve and other central banks already target asset prices; yet, by taking aim at them only on the way down—as in the current housing and credit crisis—the "Big Banks" create a self-perpetuating cycle of perverse incentives and moral hazard that often gives rise to yet another round of bubbles.
The US central bank's current premise is that policymakers cannot and should not target asset bubbles. However, the housing story has rendered untenable the prevailing belief that bubbles are impossible to spot ahead of time. The warning signals were ubiquitous—for example, price charts showing home values rising impossibly into the stratosphere, and Wall Street's increasing reliance on housing-backed bonds for its record-setting profits. It has become abundantly clear that there was plenty the Fed could have done to discourage speculative behavior and put a stop to predatory lending.
Recent US experience has bolstered the view that asset prices must come under the central bank's purview in order for the economy to retain some semblance of stability. Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker recently called for a broader regulatory role for the central bank in light of the housing-centered credit crisis. Indeed, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's latest plan for tackling the crisis involves giving the Fed vast new authority to regulate investment banks, not just depository institutions. However, news analyst Pedro Nicolaci da Costa argues that attitude changes among regulators will be even more important than shifts in mandate in ensuring that regulators like the Fed do their jobs properly.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Pedro Nicolaci da Costa
Public Policy Brief No. 94 | April 2008
What Can We Learn from Minsky?
In this new Public Policy Brief, Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray explains today’s complex and fragile financial system, and how the seeds of crisis were sown by lax oversight, deregulation, and risky innovations such as securitization. He estimates that the combined losses throughout the entire financial sector could amount to several trillion dollars, and that the United States will feel the effects of the crisis for some time—perhaps a decade or more.
Wray recommends enhanced oversight of financial institutions, much larger stimulus packages, and creation of a new institution in line with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 93 | January 2008
Systemic Risk and the Crisis in the U.S. Subprime Mortgage Market
In this brief, Senior Scholar Jan Kregel reviews Hyman P. Minsky’s concept of financial fragility—in short, that the structure of a capitalist economy becomes more fragile over a period of prosperity—and concludes that the current crisis is in fact the result of insufficient margins of safety based on how creditworthiness is assessed in the new “originate and distribute” financial system.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 92 | October 2007
A Minsky Moment
It is now clear that most economists underestimated the widening economic impact of the credit crunch that has shaken American financial markets since at least mid-July. A credit crunch is an economic condition in which loans and investment capital are difficult to obtain; in such a period, banks and other lenders become wary of issuing loans, so the price of borrowing rises, often to the point where deals simply do not get done. Financial economist Hyman P. Minsky (1919–1996) was the foremost expert on such crunches, and his ideas remain relevant to understanding the current situation.
This brief by Charles J. Whalen demonstrates that the US credit crunch of 2007 can aptly be described as a “Minsky moment.” It begins by taking a look at aspects of this crunch, then examines the notion of a Minsky moment, along with the main ideas informing Minsky’s perspective on economic instability. At the heart of that viewpoint is what Minsky called the “financial instability hypothesis,” which derives from an interpretation of John Maynard Keynes’s work and underscores the value of an evolutionary and institutionally grounded alternative to conventional economics. The brief then returns to the 2007 credit crunch and identifies some of the key elements relevant to fleshing out a Minsky-oriented account of that event.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Charles J. Whalen
Public Policy Brief No. 91 | October 2007
Suggestions for a New Agenda
The failure of the Doha Development Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations in July 2006 was the first major collapse of a multilateral trade round since World War II. Research Associate Thomas Palley sees the failure as an event that could mark the close of a 60-year era of trade policy largely centered on increasing market access and reducing tariffs, quotas, and subsidies. Doha’s demise represents an opportunity to challenge the intellectual dominance of the current WTO paradigm, to expose the failings of the neoliberal model of economic development, and to reposition the global trade debate.Download:Associated Program(s):Economic Policy for the 21st Century Employment Policy and Labor Markets The State of the US and World EconomiesAuthor(s):Thomas I. Palley
Public Policy Brief No. 90 | July 2007
What Will the Housing Debacle Mean for the U.S. Economy?
With economic growth having cooled to less than 1 percent in the first quarter of 2007, the economy can ill afford a slump in consumption by the American household. But it now appears that the household sector could finally give in to the pressures of rising gasoline prices, a weakening home market, and a large debt burden. The signals are still mixed; for example, while April’s retail sales numbers caused concern, May’s were much improved, and so was the ISM manufacturing index for June. Consumption growth indicates a slowdown. This Public Policy Brief examines the American household and its economic fortunes, concentrating on how falling home prices might hamper economic growth, generate social dislocations, and possibly lead to a full-blown financial crisis.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 89 | January 2007
How Should Policy Respond?
According to Research Associate Thomas I. Palley, global outsourcing represents a new economic challenge that calls for a new set of institutions. In this brief, he expands upon the problems of offshore outsourcing as outlined in Public Policy Brief no. 86 and focuses on the microeconomic foundations. He argues that outsourcing is a central element of globalization that is best understood as a new form of competition. Palley urges policymakers to understand the economic basis of outsourcing in order to develop effective policies, and suggests that they focus on enhancing national competitiveness and establishing new rules that govern the nature of global competition.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Thomas I. Palley
Public Policy Brief No. 88 | November 2006
A Rendezvous with Reality
Over the past decade, deficit spending by consumers has supported the United States economy. Research Associate Robert Parenteau analyzes the financial balance of American households and finds that the pace of deficit spending is likely to stall and, possibly, reverse course. This reversion will jeopardize US profit and economic growth, as well as the growth of countries dependent on export-led development strategies. His research supports the position of other Levy Institute scholars who have urged policymakers to recognize the consequences of current imbalances in the US economy.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 87 | November 2006
Toward Convergence and Full Employment
Unemployment in the European Union (EU) is a serious problem that threatens to disrupt the integration of accession countries, the character of individual countries, and the continued existence of the EU. European integration poses a huge conundrum for European employment because the conventional theory explaining unemployment in Europe—labor market rigidities—is wrong. According to Senior Scholar James K. Galbraith, the application of this policy will not cure European unemployment, but it could destroy the economic promise of the EU for its poorer regions and the accession countries.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 86 | October 2006
Gomory, Baumol, and Samuelson on Comparative Advantage
The theory of comparative advantage says that there are gains from trade for the global economy as a whole. In this second brief of a three-part study of the international economy, Research Associate Thomas Palley observes that comparative advantage is driven by technology, which can be influenced by human action and policy. These associations have huge implications for the distribution of gains from trade and raise concerns about the future impact of international trade on the US economy. Palley calls for strategically designed US trade policy that can influence the nature of the global equilibrium and change the distribution of gains from trade.
Recent works by Ralph Gomory and William Baumol and Paul Samuelson use pure trade theory to question the distribution of trade gains across countries over time and to challenge commonly held beliefs. These microeconomic and trade theorists identify a new issue: the dynamic evolution of comparative advantage and its impact on the distribution of gains from trade, which depends on changing global demand and supply conditions. (See also, Public Policy Brief No. 85.)Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Thomas I. Palley
Public Policy Brief No. 85 | June 2006
Why Today’s International Financial System Is Unsustainable
The stability of the international financial system is in doubt. Analysis of the system has focused mainly on the sustainability of financing the American trade deficit and has failed to understand the microeconomics of transactions within the system. According to this brief by Thomas I. Palley, the international financial system is unsustainable for reasons of demand, not supply. He recommends a global system of managed exchange rates to replace the current system before it crashes, along with the US economy.
East Asian economies are pursuing export-led growth and running huge trade surpluses with the United States by actively pursuing policies aimed at maintaining undervalued exchange rates. Their governments continue to accumulate US financial assets in order to support and stabilize the international financial system.While East Asian policymakers are correct in their belief that they can improve economic outcomes through exchange rate intervention, the system is undermining the structure of income and aggregate demand and eroding US manufacturing capacity.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Thomas I. Palley
Public Policy Brief No. 84 | May 2006
A Pessimistic ViewEven as the United States enjoys an economic expansion, there is an undercurrent of concern among economic analysts who follow financial markets. Some feel that the expansion of the credit derivatives markets poses the threat of a crisis similar to the Long-Term Capital Management debacle of 1998. Credit derivatives allow banks to share risks with holders of the derivatives, which are often mutual funds and other nonbank financial institutions.The Basel II Accord, now being implemented in many countries, is hailed as a good form of protection against the risk of a series of bank failures of the type that might cause problems in the derivatives markets. Basel II represents a more sophisticated and complex version of the original Basel Accord of 1992, which set minimum capital ratios for various types of bank assets.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 83 | January 2006
The Case to Replace FDIC Protection with Self-Insurance
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) currently insures bank deposit balances up to $100,000. According to some observers, statutory protection creates moral hazard problems for insurers because it allows banks to engage in risky activities. As an example, moral hazard was a key contributor to huge losses suffered when thrift institutions failed during the 1980s.
This brief by Panos Konstas outlines a plan to reduce the risk of government losses by replacing insured deposits with uninsured deposits and eliminating some of the costs of deposit insurance. His plan proposes a self-insured (SI) depositor system that places an intermediary between the lender (saver) and borrower (bank) in the credit-flow chain. The FDIC would guarantee saver loans and allow the intermediary to borrow at the risk-free interest rate if the intermediary’s bank deposit is statutorily defined outside the realm of FDIC insurance. The risk is therefore transferred to depositors (intermediaries); thus creating incentives for depositors to earn a rate of return at least equal to the cost of borrowing plus a risk premium based on the risk profile of banks.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Panos Konstas
Public Policy Brief No. 82 | August 2005
Social Security Is Only the Beginning . . .
As his new term begins, President George W. Bush has been trying to focus his domestic agenda on what he calls the “ownership society,” a sweeping vision of an America in which more citizens would hold significant assets and be free to make their own choices about providing for their health care and retirement, and educating their children. L. Randall Wray, who has written for the Levy Institute on many topics, evaluates the premises and logic of this program in this new public policy brief.
Wray points out that much of the history of the Western world since the advent of liberalism has been marked by a gradual rise in the power of those who lack property. Some of the milestones in this progression include universal suffrage, regulation of business, and progressive taxation. Bush’s ownership society proposals, according to Wray, would result in a partial reversal of the progress of the last 250 years. The reason is that, while Bush’s plans would undoubtedly increase the choices and power of those who have property, they would fail to democratize ownership. Many gains to the wealthy would come at the expense of the poor, the sick, and the elderly.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 81 | June 2005
The Case Against the Fiscal Hawks
For some time, Levy Institute scholars have been engaged with issues related to the current account, government, and private sector balances. We have argued that the existing imbalances in these accounts are unsustainable and will ultimately present a serious challenge to the performance of the American economy.
Other scholars are also concerned, but for reasons that we do not share. They argue that the interest rate is determined by the supply and demand of saving. When the government reduces its saving, the total supply of saving falls, and the interest rate inevitably rises. The result, they say, is that interest-sensitive spending, and investment in particular, falls. Finally, these scholars say, less investment now necessarily implies less output in the future.
In this new brief, Senior Scholar James K. Galbraith evaluates a recent article by William G. Gale and Peter R. Orszag, two economists who regard this view of deficits as plausible. He forwards an alternative, Keynesian view. This alternative suggests that deficits can increase overall output, possibly enabling the government to spend more money without increasing the ratio of the debt to GDP. He casts doubt on the notion that the interest rate is determined by the supply and demand of saving, arguing that monetary policy plays a much larger role than Gale and Orszag allow for. Moreover, he writes, strong demand for goods and services is more important than the supply of capital in determining the pace of technological advance and the rate of growth of output per worker.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 80 | December 2004
The Case for Rate Hikes, Part Two
The most charitable interpretation of the Federal Reserve’s recent interest rate hikes is that they appear to have been premature. A convincing array of data on payrolls, employment-to-population ratios, and other labor market indicators show that the current recovery has not yet attained the degree of labor market tightness that was common in previous recoveries, and therefore that the threat of inflation is minimal. Hence, the Fed, in raising rates, was unnecessarily jeopardizing the economy’s weak recovery.
In this new brief, we learn about the flaws in the Fed’s thinking that have led to its frequent policy mistakes. Author L. Randall Wray traces several strands of current central bank thinking back to their roots in the Fed’s internal discussions in the mid-1990s. Transcripts of these discussions have recently been released, a development that has yielded some disturbing and telling insights about the way in which monetary policy is formed.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 79 | August 2004
Did the Fed Prematurely Raise Rates?
For a time, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) seemed to have learned from the mistakes of the past. Instead of taking good economic performance as a sign of incipient inflation, Chairman Alan Greenspan kept interest rates relatively low in the late 1990s, even as unemployment plummeted. Many commentators worried that the FOMC’s unusually easy stance would usher in a period of runaway inflation, but inflation stayed in the 2 to 3 percent range.
Now, with scant evidence of an inflationary threat, Greenspan and his committee seem intent on raising interest rates. Greenspan argues that the current anemic expansion is “self-sustaining” and no longer needs the support of low interest rates.
In this new brief, Levy Institute Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray evaluates the Fed’s concern about a coming inflation and its decision to begin raising interest rates. He begins with an examination of key market developments that might signal inflation. Most economists worry about inflation when labor markets begin to tighten and employees gain the bargaining power necessary to demand pay raises. Wray marshals an array of evidence demonstrating that workers can only wish for such conditions. The economy has created no net new jobs since the beginning of the current presidential term. To match the 64.4 percent proportion of adults who held jobs during the Clinton era, the economy would have to generate four million new positions. It is clear that the job market will not be a source of inflation any more than it was during the Clinton boom.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 78 | June 2004
A Minskyan Assessment
Twenty to 25 years ago, a debate was under way in academe and in the popular press over the War on Poverty. One group of scholars argued that the war, initiated by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, had been lost, owing to the inherent ineffectiveness of government welfare programs. Charles Murray and other scholars argued that welfare programs only encouraged shiftlessness and burdened federal and state budgets.
In recent years, despite the fact that the extent of poverty has not significantly diminished since the early 1970s, the debate over poverty has seemingly ended. In a country in which middle-class citizens struggle to afford health insurance and other necessities, the problems of the worst-off Americans seem to many remote and less than pressing. Moreover, the welfare reform bill of 1996 has deflected much of the criticism of the welfare state by ending the individual-level entitlement to Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits (now known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) and putting time limits on welfare recipiency, among other measures.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 77 | June 2004
The Risks to Consumption and Investment
A rebound of consumption, investment, and consumer confidence in the second half of 2003 has raised hopes that the United States' recovery from the 2001 recession is on a sustainable course. According to this brief by Philip Arestis and Elias Karakitsos, however, the trend in the short-term factors affecting the economy has changed for the better, but long-term factors remain at risk. Slow, rather than rapid, economic growth is better in 2004, the authors say, as rapid growth would result in higher long-term interest rates, which would threaten the property market boom and weaken investment in 2005 and beyond. The authors are sure, however, that the current administration will find it difficult to refrain from additional procyclical fiscal stimulus in light of the upcoming presidential election. The result could lead to a rapidly declining US economic growth rate following the election in November.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Philip Arestis Elias Karakitsos
Public Policy Brief No. 76 | April 2004
Its Persistence in an Expansionary Economy
Economic growth and a rising stock market in the 1990s gave the impression that everyone was accumulating wealth and asset poverty rates were declining. The impression was supported by the official, income-based poverty measure, which exhibited a sharp decline. According to Senior Scholar Edward N. Wolff and Research Scholar Asena Caner, poverty measures should include wealth as well as income. Their study of asset poverty in the United States between 1984 and 1999 focuses on the lower end of the wealth distribution and shows that asset poverty rates did not decline during the period studied, and that the severity of poverty increased. It also shows that asset poverty is much more persistent than income poverty.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Asena Caner Edward N. Wolff
Public Policy Brief No. 75 | December 2003
New Institutions for an Inclusive Capital Market
In 2002 more than $1 trillion worth of new bonds was sold across international boundaries. The total stock of cross-border bond holdings was more than $9 trillion. Such lending, together with sales of equities, is regarded as one of the chief benefits of globalization. But financial investment does not always flow where it is needed most. While it appears that the world cannot be satiated with US securities, issues of emerging economies account for less than 6 percent of total international holdings of debt securities (D’Arista 2003). And, as Argentina discovered recently, international lenders can be fickle, selling enough foreign currency and securities to cause a currency crisis.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Philip Arestis Santonu Basu
Public Policy Brief No. 74 | November 2003
Treating the Disease, Not the Symptoms
Most recent discussions of deflation seem to overlook the main dangers posed by a deflationary economy and appear to offer superficial solutions. In this brief, the authors argue that, barring drastic changes in asset and output prices, deflation itself is not the main problem, but rather the recessionary conditions that sometimes give rise to deflation. Whether or not prices are falling, the proper remedy for a recession is the Keynesian one: government deficit spending, used to finance useful programs and tax cuts. These measures will reduce unemployment, increase growth, and relieve deflationary pressures.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 73 | August 2003
How Far Can Equity Prices Fall?
In an asset and debt deflation, the process of reducing debt by saving and curtailing spending takes a long time, say authors Philip Arestis and Elias Karakitsos. Current imbalances and poor prospects for spending in the private sector affect the balance sheets of the commercial banks. The downward spiral between the banks and the private sector induces a credit crunch that adversely affects the US economy, which is vulnerable to exogenous shocks and lacks the foundations for a new, long-lasting business cycle.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Philip Arestis Elias Karakitsos
Public Policy Brief No. 72 | August 2003
Soft Budgets and the Keynesian Devolution
The “American Model” serves as a point of reference in discussions of economic policy around the world, especially in Europe. Many claim that the American version of the free market represents an ideal type—it is the highest form of capitalism. Senior Scholar James K. Galbraith argues, however, that the United States has relied heavily on government intervention in housing, health care, pensions, and education. Not only have these programs been largely successful and popular, but they also provide a Keynesian stimulus to spending that helps account for the strength of the US economy. Now that the United States is in a weak, jobless recovery, the key to restoring growth may lie in the kinds of governmental programs that have helped to sustain and stabilize the US economy in the past.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 71 | January 2003
The Dubious Effectiveness of Interest Rate Policy
Central bankers and many economists have abandoned “activist” policies and monetarism and adopted in their place a new view of the role of monetary policy. This view draws on many of the tenets of more traditional theories of money—monetarism’s emphasis on inflation control and skepticism about the use of easy-money policies to permanently increase output, and the Keynesian view that the total stock of money is not an important driving force behind either inflation or unemployment—yet it also takes a dim view of democratic input to the policymaking process. This brief evaluates a premise subscribed to by most central bankers: that monetary policy can be effectively used to control inflation without any permanent sacrifice in the form of reduced income or job opportunities.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 70 | November 2002
Medical Practice Norms and the Quality of Care
This brief considers the interaction between physician incentive systems and product market competition in the delivery of medical services via managed care organizations. At the center of the analysis is the process by which health maintenance organizations (HMOs) assemble physician networks and the role these networks play in the competition for customers. The authors find that although physician practice styles respond to financial incentives, there is little evidence that HMO cost-containment incentives cause a discernable reduction in care quality. They propose a model of the managed care marketplace that solves for both physician incentive contracts and HMO product market strategies in an environment of extreme information asymmetry: physicians perceive the quality of care they offer perfectly and their patients do not perceive it at all.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):David J. Cooper James B. Rebitzer
Public Policy Brief No. 69 | November 2002
An Evaluation of a Plan to Reduce Financial Instability
In this brief, Biagio Bossone of the International Monetary Fund evaluates narrow banking from the perspective of modern theories of financial intermediation. These theories portray the status quo banking system as a solution to otherwise intractable problems of imperfect information, risk, and even moral hazard. The system's characteristic coupling of liquid liabilities with illiquid assets—seen by some as an undesirable “mismatch”—in fact contributes greatly to the efficiency of the economy. Bossone argues that these efficiency gains outweigh the disadvantages associated with the existing legal framework.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Biagio Bossone
Public Policy Brief No. 68 | August 2002
Balancing Government Regulation and Market Forces
At issue in the debate over the renewal of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977 are the various yardsticks regulators use to judge whether individual institutions are meeting the credit and service needs of low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities. Based on careful examination of new CRA data and assessments of comments by selected stakeholders, the author concludes that if the new rules are to succeed, regulators will have to strike a careful balance between various competing interests vying to tip the balance of power in their favor. For example, to offset the effects of a possibly too-close relationship between industry and government agencies, the rules could mandate very explicit and objective measures of institutions’ lending performance. To relieve the burden of compliance, the rules could be simplified and pared down to their essentials. And to prevent banks from taking advantage of vulnerable members of LMI communities, rule makers could adopt strong measures against “predatory lending.”Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Kenneth H. Thomas
Public Policy Brief No. 67 | November 2001
The Impact of Misguided Macroeconomic Policies
Although the costs associated with moving an antiquated socialist economy toward its capitalist counterpart was anticipated to be significant, German industrial efficiency was expected to quickly overcome any challenges. Things turned out rather differently. Conventional wisdom blamed poor economic performance on unification. The government and the Bundesbank therefore put in place fiscal and monetary policies aimed at reducing borrowing and, in turn, containing the threat of inflation. The positive results (albeit in five years) supported this perception. The author of this brief, however, takes exception to the notion that these policies were effective in stabilizing the economy. His analysis shows that the country’s poor economic performance dramatically dampened economic activity and led to an extended period of sluggish growth. Blame for anemic growth and high unemployment, he believes, should be placed squarely on the country’s finance department and central bank rather than on unification.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 66 | November 2001
Is the Gap Closing?
Despite decades of policies aimed at improving the economic position of African Americans in terms of relative income and earnings, they remain substantially behind whites. The research presented in this brief indicates that the wealth gap is even more staggering. Following families over time in order to understand racial differences in the sources and patterns of wealth accumulation, Senior Scholar Edward N. Wolff finds that African Americans would have gained significant ground relative to whites in the past 30 years if they had inherited similar amounts, comparable levels of family income, and more similar portfolio compositions. Therefore, even if the income gap between whites and African Americans were immediately eliminated, it may take another two generations for the wealth gap to close. However, certain policies could help speed up the process.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 65 | August 2001
The Markets vs. the ECB
This brief assesses the experiences of Europe’s policy regime in the two years since the introduction of the euro in 1999, particularly the performance of the European Central Bank (ECB), the institution in charge of conducting monetary policy for the euro area. Conventional accounts of European growth, price, and labor market performance over recent years focus on labor market institutions and wage trends. By contrast, the interpretation offered here assigns a key role to demand-side factors as the driving force behind the recovery in output and employment growth. It is argued that the euro's plunge essentially resumed the trend of deutsche mark weakness that had started in 1996 and that currency depreciation amounted to a significant easing of monetary conditions.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 64 | June 2001
A Study of the Effects of Campaign Finance Reform
Proposals for campaign finance reform are essentially based on the belief that political influence can be bought with financial donations to a candidate’s campaign. But do contributions really influence the decisions of legislators once they are in office? In this brief, Christopher Magee examines the link between campaign donations and legislators’ actions. His results suggest that political action committees donate campaign funds to challengers in order to affect the outcome of the election by increasing the challenger’s chances of winning. These contributions have a large effect on the election outcome but do not seem to affect challengers’ policy stances. In contrast, campaign contributions to incumbents do not raise their chances of being reelected and seem to be given with the hope of gaining influence.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Christopher Magee
Public Policy Brief No. 63 | March 2001
Is There an Alternative to the Stability and Growth Pact?
This brief provides a detailed description of the Stability and Growth Pact, an agreement entered into by the member states of the European Union that has far-reaching implications for the long-run value of the euro, and therefore, on the real economy in terms of output growth and employment. Yet despite the fact that the pact underpins the adoption of the single currency and has fundamentally redefined the scope and nature of economic policymaking in the member states, public discussion about it is relatively scant, especially on our side of the Atlantic, even though the economic health of the European Union does matter to the economic and strategic position of the United States. The authors provide propose a critique of the pact that focuses on the shortcomings induced by the its regime of mandatory fiscal austerity, the separation between fiscal and monetary policy, the undemocratic structure and lack of accountability of the European Central Bank, and the paramount importance attached to price stability at the expense of other policy objectives. According to the authors, these shortcomings will have serious negative effects on the current and future economic performance of the member states and the material well-being of its citizens.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 62 | December 2000
Trends in Job Skill Requirements, Technology, and Wage Inequality in the United States
Despite seven years of economic growth a large gap exists in the wages earned by workers at the top of the earnings scale and those at the bottom. The leading explanation for this growth in wage inequality continues to be the skills-mismatch theory. This theory in part posits that gains in technology have resulted in jobs having highly technical skill requirements that have outpaced growth in worker skills; demand for highly skilled workers therefore rises more swiftly than that for less-skilled workers, creating upward pressure on wages for those with the most skills. The empirical evidence is examined here and shows that there is little evidence to support the mismatch theory as there has been little sign of a shortage of workers with computer or general technical skills. If the analysis is correct, then policies currently used to close the wage gap, such as improved education and training, will not alone solve the inequality problem. Rather, the solution may require macroeconomic policies aimed at maintaining economic growth and full employment, and labor policies, such as the minimum wage, that support the earnings of workers at the lower end of the wage scale.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Michael J. Handel
Public Policy Brief No. 61 | November 2000
The Macroeconomics of Social Policy
The idea that saving is the force driving private investment and economic growth has become ever more entrenched in mainstream economic thought as well as in the minds of policymakers and the general public. Even though the empirical evidence that increased household saving will directly stimulate private investment and economic growth is scant, the idea remains prominent and underlies policy debates on topics ranging from Social Security to a balanced federal budget to reducing the national debt. The popular theory underlying these cuts is countered by evidence that private sector investment is financed primarily out of business retained earnings, not household saving, which explains why current policies aimed at raising household saving via cuts to social spending programs have been unsuccessful at raising saving rates. Moreover, government spending on social programs does not necessarily reduce economic growth. Higher government spending could be supported, and a greater degree of investment spending stimulated, through a combination of lower taxes on business income and higher taxes on personal incomes of upper-income households.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Jamee K. Moudud Ajit Zacharias
Public Policy Brief No. 60 | June 2000
The Pursuit of Price Stability and Full Employment
The Federal Reserve currently has two legislated goals—price stability and full employment—but a debate continues about making price stability the Fed’s primary and overriding goal. Evidence from the recent history of monetary policy contradicts arguments in favor of assigning primacy to inflation fighting and supports giving full employment equal importance. Economic performance under the dual mandate has been excellent, with low unemployment and low inflation, while many European countries whose central banks focus solely on inflation are experiencing double-digit unemployment. The costs of unemployment are high, but the costs of even moderate inflation are estimated to be low. Central bankers, who tend to be inflationaverse, need to be prodded to consider goals other than inflation. And, if the Fed pursues price stability exclusively, the price level is not free to increase in the event of an adverse supply shock to prevent large increases in unemployment. A dual mandate allows the Fed to focus on one goal or the other as conditions demand and to balance policy effects.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 59 | February 2000
Replacing a Welfare Model with an Insurance Model
The nation is not prepared to deal with the jump in expenditures for long-term care that will come with the aging of the baby-boom generation. Only a small part of that care is paid for privately (out-of-pocket or through private insurance). Most is financed through Medicaid, the program that is intended to ensure medical care for the indigent. This use of Medicaid comes at a high cost for individuals and society: the allotment of more than a third of the Medicaid budget to long-term care; a two-tier care system; and the commandeering of limited funds by middle- and high-income people through elaborate estate planning to circumvent eligibility requirements. These problems would be mitigated by replacing the welfare model with an insurance model—voluntary or compulsory private insurance, with subsidies through income-scaled tax credits to ensure affordability. An equitable and efficient system could be created with a blend of public money, private insurance, and other private saving, with a safety net for those in greatest need.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Walter M. Cadette
Public Policy Brief No. 58 | December 1999
Infrastructure Financing with the AGIS Bond
The current system of tax-exempt bond financing is inefficient and inequitable because a large portion of the federal subsidy provided by the tax exemption does not reach state and local governments and accrues instead to the wealthiest investors. In addition, the current system excludes large institutional investors, both domestic and foreign, with their huge pools of capital, and it lacks the stable oversight characteristic of the taxable bond market. Edward V. Regan and his associates have developed a new security concept to overcome these weaknesses. The American global infrastructure security (AGIS) bond has two components that are sold separately—tax exemption and income flow—creating a taxable bond for sale in the regular capital markets in addition to the tax exclusion benefit.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Edward V. Regan
Public Policy Brief No. 57 | December 1999
Right-to-Work Laws, Unionization, and the Minimum Wage
Union strength is capable of boosting wages for workers at the low end of the income scale. Even when differences in education and industry type are accounted for, workers in right-to-work states have a greater probability of earning close to the minimum wage than workers in states with relatively high union density. The decline of unionization requires that other labor market institutions, mainly the minimum wage, be used to improve the distribution of income in order to combat the continuing growth of inequality in the United States.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Oren Levin-Waldman
Public Policy Brief No. 56 | November 1999
Realities and Fallacies in International Financial Reform
The causes for the instability that has marked the financial system over the past decade lie deep in the economic theory that urges easy and efficient substitution of one piece of paper for another, in the technology-driven tight articulation of receipts and payments, and in the growth of leverage that diminishes the creditworthiness of major institutions when an interruption in their receipts requires them to seek funds. Many of the proposals aimed at reducing risk in the financial system, however, do not recognize these changes or their importance. The call for greater bank transparency, for example, fails to take into account both that bankers and regulators are jealous of their “privacy” and that financial markets, not banks, have lately become the more important player in the financial system. Guidelines are needed that reflect the new financial architecture: controls on the creation of leverage in the repo and derivatives markets and limits on banks’ freedom to back away from borrowers’ cross-border liabilities in currencies other than their own. When such preventive measures fail, then crisis management will require “standstill” agreements to encourage the continuation of something like normal economic life while the losses from financial failure are sorted out.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Martin Mayer
Public Policy Brief No. 55 | August 1999
Providing for Retirees throughout the Twenty-first Century
Projections of an impending crisis in financing Social Security depend on unduly pessimistic assumptions about basic demographic and economic variables. Moreover, even if the assumptions are accepted, the projected gap between Social Security revenues and expenditures would not constitute a “crisis” and could be eliminated with relatively simple adjustments when it occurs. The real issue regarding our ability to provide for retirees throughout the coming century is not the size of Social Security Trust Funds, but the size and distribution of the whole economic pie. When the issue is viewed in this light, it becomes clear that most proposals to “save” the system—locking away budget surpluses, investing the Trust Funds in the stock market, privatization, reduction of benefits—do not address the real problem of caring for future retirees. Solutions consistent with the true nature and scope of the problem lie not within the Social Security system itself but in the realm of a general fiscal policy aimed at ensuring the growth of the economy.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 54 | July 1999
An Inside Look at the Out of the Labor Force Population
Despite a long period of strong economic growth, more than 28 million working-age persons were categorized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as out of the labor force in 1998. A small portion of this population will move into the labor force, but the majority will remain without work. This brief examines the demographics of the out-of-the-labor-force population, their reasons for not working, the likelihood that they will move into the labor force, and the adverse effects on them of prolonged joblessness. Current labor market policies, and especially welfare reform measures, have proved ineffective for the “hard-core” jobless because the policies are predicated on the mistaken notion that the private labor market is dynamic and flexible enough to accommodate anyone who wants to work. A public employment program would complement the operation of the private market, providing those who are able and willing with income, a sense of worth, the opportunity to make a social and economic contribution, and preparation for entry into the labor force.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Marc-André Pigeon L. Randall Wray
Public Policy Brief No. 53 | July 1999
Full Employment Policy: Theory and Practice
Claims that the nation has reached full employment take for granted the need for a reserve pool of labor to maintain price stability and labor market flexibility. But are millions of jobless and underemployed workers the best we can do in these times of economic expansion? And what will happen when the inevitable downturn comes? Reduction of the workweek and employment subsidies have been proposed to achieve higher employment, but neither is sure to raise employment and both may have serious side effects. A public service employment program that offers jobs at a fixed wage to all who are willing and able to work can provide full employment without inflationary pressures and with labor market flexibility, preserve workers’ skills, contribute valuable public services, and be relatively inexpensive.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 52 | July 1999
Fiscal Policy and Growth Cycles
Based on neoclassical theory, cutting budget deficits has come to be seen as a principal way to increase long-run growth, but the empirical evidence is ambiguous on the outcome of this macropolicy. A new model, the classical growth cycles (CGC) model, offers an alternative theoretical framework for analyzing the complex effects of fiscal policy. The CGC model holds that the impacts of fiscal policy on growth are transmitted through its effects on business profitability and the business saving rate. Investigation of both short-run and long-run effects of government spending and of the distinctive long-run effects of different types of government spending suggests that indiscriminate deficit cutting will not lead to a rise in the long-run profit rate and may exacerbate poverty and inequality in the short and the long run.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Jamee K. Moudud
Public Policy Brief No. 51 | March 1999
Levy Institute Survey of Hiring and Employment Practices
The Levy Institute conducted a survey of small businesses to elicit information about their hiring and employment practices, especially the hiring of former welfare recipients; preferences regarding education, training, and other characteristics of potential employees; effects of increases in the minimum wage on employment decisions; and their responses to various forms of government wage and training subsidies. Analysis of the survey results indicates weaknesses in the assumptions on which recent welfare reform has been based. It also suggests a role for small business that has been overlooked. An active partnership between government and small business, involving incentives for hiring and training as well as mandates for welfare reduction, is required if former welfare recipients are to become independent and productive members of the labor force.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Oren Levin-Waldman
Public Policy Brief No. 50 | February 1999
The Job Opportunity Approach to Full Employment
Central banks, national governments, and international organizations have resisted policies that would promote full employment because high employment and high capacity utilization are associated with structural rigidities that result in sluggish growth, inflationary pressures, and other undesirable consequences. What has been almost entirely overlooked is the way in which public sector activity can enhance flexibility with regard to labor, capital goods, natural resources and environmental protection, methods of production, and location of economic activity. The job opportunity approach makes strategic use of public sector activity to create truly full employment, thereby reducing the social and economic costs of unemployment, and to promote projects designed to be consistent with broad macroeconomic goals and social values.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 49 | December 1998
Productive and Financial Challenges
The postwar system of corporate governance in Germany is being threatened by the failure of some industries to maintain their competitive position (with resulting significant job losses) and pressures for financial liquidity driven by those who have accumulated substantial financial holdings, institutions competing for control of those holdings, and those concerned about the funding of the pension system. The strength of the competitors (mainly the Japanese) lies not in cost differences, but in their capabilities, based on financial commitment and organizational integration, to innovate and thereby to build the long-run future of the corporation. If German labor, finance, and corporate managers each insist on pursuing independent strategies to extract returns from industrial enterprises and if corporations replace investment in innovation with shareholder value as the basis for corporate decision making, German industry may be unable to regenerate the basis of sustainable prosperity.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 48 | December 1998
Adapting to Financial Pressures for Change
Despite the crisis in the Japanese financial sector, prolonged recession, and competitive challenges, Japan’s formidable productive system remains strong. Nevertheless, the system of corporate governance, which has pursued a strategy of retaining corporate revenues and reallocating labor resources and returns to labor in order to invest in productive capabilities, faces short-term pressures from a transformation of the financial sector and long-term pressures from the growth of intergenerational dependence. Current reforms seek to generate funding for the pension system and profits for financial enterprises from international securities and money markets. These reforms seem to work within the corporate governance framework that emphasizes the retain-and-reallocate strategy, but the question is whether they will create powerful pressures to extract returns from the domestic economy, thereby affecting how corporations are managed and resources allocated.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 47 | December 1998
An Ethical Framework for Cost-Effective Medicine
HMO medicine sets up an inevitable conflict between the physicians’ traditional fiduciary role and the financial interests of the health plan and its physicians. Regulatory interventions, such as the formulation of rules regarding clinical practice, put government in a micromanagement role it cannot hope to perform well. Government instead should focus on building a regulatory framework to protect patients that would deal with the ethical problems that flow from the very design of HMO medicine. It should address fundamental issues, principally, the financial incentives under which HMO physicians work, restrictions on communication with patients about care options not covered by their health plan, accountability for decisions to withhold care, and the return of care decisions to the province of the physician. The challenge for regulators is to retain the power of the economic incentive to encourage cost-conscious practice, but to separate it from the welfare of patients.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Walter M. Cadette
Public Policy Brief No. 46 | November 1998
Net Earnings Capacity versus Income for Measuring Poverty
The United States' official poverty measure defines the poor in terms of a family’s actual, yearly cash income relative to an estimate of the income needed to sustain a minimally acceptable standard of living. An alternative definition, designed to reflect a family’s ability to achieve economic independence, would instead rest on its capacity for generating income. Net earnings capacity (NEC) is an indicator of the income a family could earn if all working-age family members work full-time, full-year, at earnings consistent with their age, education, and other characteristics, with an adjustment made for child care costs. NEC is not intended as a replacement for the official measure, but as a supplement. The official measure identifies the population in need of short-term monetary assistance, whereas NEC identifies the population in need of longer-term skill-enhancing assistance in order to become self-reliant. Two general policy approaches to reduce the prevalence of NEC poverty are to increase the level of education and other income-generating characteristics of those with low earnings capacity and to increase the returns they receive for work.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Robert Haveman Andrew Bershadker
Public Policy Brief No. 45 | October 1998
Job Opportunity for the Less Skilled
During the recent robust expansion only 700,000 of the almost 12 million jobs created went to the half of the population that does not have at least some college education. Even though the number of officially unemployed fell to less than 4 million in the 25-and-over age group, there remain in that group over 26 million potentially employable workers—the combined number of those who are actively seeking work (and are counted as officially unemployed) and those who are currently out of the labor force but would be willing to participate. Since expansion has not proven sufficient to remedy this intolerably high level of wasted human resources, well-targeted, active labor market policies are required. One such policy is a job opportunity program that “hires off the bottom,” providing minimum-wage jobs for all those who are ready, willing, and able to work. The program would create a buffer stock of labor from which employers could hire during upturns instead of bidding up the wages of the already employed, and thus would offer both full employment and price stability.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Marc-André Pigeon L. Randall Wray
Public Policy Brief No. 44 | September 1998
Regulation of Cross-border Interbank Lending and Derivatives Trade
Asia presents a cumulation of apparently rational decisions that produced disastrous results—a textbook illustration of “financial instability” developing from the economics of euphoria. A combination of factors produced the crisis as enormous capital inflows were drawn to the “Asian miracle“-pegged exchange rates with fluctuating interest rates, integrated economies, moral hazard created by central banks, and short-term lending and derivatives trade without sufficient evaluation of risk and credit analysis of borrowers. The Asian tragedy demonstrates the need for improved regulation of cross-border interbank lending, improved accounting for both borrowers and lenders, and separation of the close links between governments and their banking sector.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Martin Mayer
Public Policy Brief No. 43 | September 1998
The Relationship between Public Capital and Economic Growth
Investment in infrastructure is necessary for a strong, flexible, and growing economy. However, the relationship between public capital and economic growth is not linear. At a certain level, the tax burden associated with financing and maintaining public capital reduces the returns to private industry, which in turn reduces growth; also, different types of spending have different effects on growth. The short- and long-term growth-maximizing effects of public investment increase as the ratio of public to private capital stock rises to an optimal level (found to be about 61 percent); above that level, the growth effects decrease. The public-to-private ratio is below the optimal level throughout much of the country and government spending is not always directed toward the types of investment that have the most positive effects on growth. Good economic policy requires both increasing the public capital stock and reorienting government spending from consumption to investment in physical capital stock.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):David Alan Aschauer
Public Policy Brief No. 42 | August 1998
Linking the Minimum Wage to Productivity
The fact that every change in the minimum wage requires an act of Congress means that debate over the wisdom of having a minimum is repeatedly returned to the political arena. As inflation continues to erode the value of the minimum wage, each legislative delay means that a larger increase is required. The larger the increase, the more resistance to its passage, so that by the time Congress acts, the political compromise is an increase that is too little and too late to be of much help in lifting workers out of poverty. Automatic adjustment of the wage, with increases keyed to measures of private sector productivity, would eliminate this problem. With the institution of a mechanism that provides regular and incremental increases, Congress will no longer be forced to revisit the issue, employers will not be confronted by sudden and large increases, and the value of the wage will be maintained.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Oren Levin-Waldman
Public Policy Brief No. 41 | July 1998
How Technological Change Increases the Duration of Unemployment
Why does a dynamic growing economy have a persistent long-term unemployment problem? Research Associates Baumol and Wolff have isolated one cause. Although technological change, the engine of growth and economic progress, may not affect or may even increase the total number of jobs available, the fact that it creates a demand for new skills and makes other skills obsolete can cause an increase in the overall rate of unemployment and the length of time during which an unemployed worker is between jobs. It goes without saying that society will not choose to slow technical innovation, but the task for policy is to find ways to offset the problems caused by this rising level and duration of unemployment.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 40 | May 1998
A Fiscally Responsible Plan for Public Capital Investment
Condemned bridges, dilapidated school buildings, contaminated water supplies, and other infrastructure shortcomings threaten American growth, productivity, and prosperity. The authors of this brief propose a plan for financing infrastructure projects that is designed to have minimal effect on the federal budget and to promote sound fiscal operation. Federal zero-interest mortgage loans to state and local governments for capital projects specified by Congress can cut the cost of such projects, achieve needed improvements in the nation’s infrastructure, and thereby contribute to the American economy’s future.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):S. Jay Levy Walter M. Cadette
Public Policy Brief No. 39 | May 1998
The Growth in Work Hours
Is the current labor market as tight as official statistics would seem to indicate? If incumbent workers increase their hours of work, it is irrelevant to the unemployment rate, but hardly irrelevant to the level of labor supply. The authors of this brief find that job insecurity and stagnating wages have made Americans willing to work those extra hours to build a financial cushion, and a 1 percent increase in hours worked per worker for a fixed labor supply is equivalent in terms of labor supply to a 1 percent increase in the number of workers. This more realistic picture of labor supply has important implications for expectations that welfare recipients can easily find jobs, for reforms in labor market statistics to provide better information, and for the direction of monetary policy.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Barry Bluestone Stephen Rose
Public Policy Brief No. 38 | December 1997
Disinflationary Monetary Policy and the Distribution of Income
Using theoretical predictions, econometric results, and the example of the Volcker disinflation, Willem Thorbecke establishes that through disinflation’s burden on the durable goods and construction industries, small firms, and low-wage workers and its benefits to bond market investors, it effects a redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. Because of this distributional consequence, he argues, engineering a disinflationary recession now to wring more inflation out of the economy would be inappropriate. On the contrary, with inflation as low as it is and with upward pressure on wages that could trigger a rise in inflation also low, now is the time for the Federal Reserve to let the economy grow—to seek policies that promote distributive justice and that help those individuals most at risk for shrinking income.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 37 | December 1997
Corporate Governance and Employment: Is Prosperity Sustainable in the United States?
Since the 1970s corporate America has become obsessed with shedding employees to cut costs and with distributing revenue to stockholders. However, the way for it to regain its competitive edge and thus to restore the promise of secure and remunerative employment for its workers is to reform its system of governance. It must reject organizational segmentation and extraction of short-term returns and instead emphasize organizational integration and long-term value creation through financial commitment to investment in the collective and cumulative learning that is the foundation of industrial innovation.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 36 | October 1997
Unemployment, Inflation, and the Job Structure
The concept of a labor market, responding to familiar underpinnings of supply and demand, completely colors thought on the relationship between employment, wages, and inflation, according to James K. Galbraith. However, he asserts, wages are determined not by such market forces, but by what he calls the job structure—a complex set of status and pay relationships involving individual qualifications, job characteristics, and industry patterns. What is the meaning of the job structure for policy? Notions of natural rates of unemployment and inflationary barriers to full employment fade away. Supply-side measures can no longer been seen as adequate to deal with problems of unemployment and inequality. Questions of distribution of income and adjustment of the wage structure are returned to the political context. The active pursuit of full employment is returned to the list of respectable, and essential, policy goals.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 35 | October 1997
Multiracials, Racial Classification, and American Intermarriage
On the United States' census form, American citizens are told they may list any ethnic ancestries with which they identify, but are instructed to “mark one only” in the question on race. Joel Perlmann asserts that it is in the public interest to allow people to declare themselves as having origins in more than one race. To do otherwise is to deny that interracial marriages exist. This denial distorts our understanding of race data whether we are discussing projections of the composition of the American population or the definition of racial and minority status involved in discrimination legislation, affirmative action, and hiring and firing practices. If racial barriers are to be broken down, racial intermarriage should be treated in the same way any other form of ethnic intermarriage is treated, while ensuring that civil rights legislation, which rests on racial classification and counts, is not hobbled by ambiguities.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 34 | September 1997
The Challenge of Financing the Baby Boom’s Retirement
The falling ratio of workers to retirees in the United States has raised concerns about Social Security’s ability to continue to provide a base level of support for all retired workers and to remain in balance with all of government's other fiscal obligations. Of alternative plans that have been proposed to safeguard the system, Walter Cadette argues against radical revamping through privatization and suggests instead minor modifications in the existing tax and benefits structure.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Walter M. Cadette
Public Policy Brief No. 33 | August 1997
No Easy Answers: Labor Market Problems in the United States versus Europe
Rebecca M. Blank considers how the flexibility of American labor markets and the regulation and redistribution policies of European labor markets may determine employers’ responses to worldwide economic transformations that result in increasing wage disparity in the United States and continuing high unemployment in Europe. She suggests that since the transformations will undoubtedly continue, governments should seek to develop plans to offset and reduce the adverse labor market effects.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Rebecca M. Blank
Public Policy Brief No. 32 | August 1997
Real Estate and Capital Gains Taxation
The recent enactment of a capital gains tax cut resulted, according to the authors, from the absence of a true appreciation or consideration of the real beneficiaries of such a cut, its probable actual effects, the distinction between productive and nonproductive sources of capital gains (two-thirds of capital gains accrue to real estate, which is a fixed, nonproductive asset), and distortions in our current income accounting system (which shield most real estate income from taxation). The across-the-board cut, which treats real estate appreciation and true capital gains as the same, is a giveaway to real estate and will steer capital and entrepreneurial resources to a search for unearned income.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Michael Hudson Kris Feder
Public Policy Brief No. 31 | May 1997
The New Welfare and the Potential for Workforce Development
The author of this brief asks why welfare, workforce development, and unemployment insurance are operated as separate entities. If the goal of the new welfare law is to end dependency and foster a work ethic, then it needs to be tied more closely to existing policy aimed at developing the workforce. Instead of viewing the new welfare system as welfare policy with a new flexibility, we should see it as an opportunity to create a more comprehensive and coherent employment program to replace outmoded public assistance.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Oren Levin-Waldman
Public Policy Brief No. 30 | April 1997
The Case for Retargeting Tax Subsidies to Health Care
With health care delivery increasingly shaped by market and budgetary discipline, the provision of health care for all seems an ever-more-distant goal.The high cost of American health care is the inevitable by-product of its method of financing. Walter M. Cadette proposes shifting the tax subsidies to health care from the tax exclusion of employment-based health insurance to an income-scaled tax credit for the individual purchase of basic health insurance. This plan holds out promise of improving the operation of the health insurance market, making the labor market more efficient, reducing overall health care costs, and providing protection for the unemployed.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Walter M. Cadette
Public Policy Brief No. 29 | February 1997
The Collapse of Low-skill Wages
David R. Howell argues that the collapse of low-skill wages in the United States cannot be explained by a skill mismatch resulting from a technology-driven decline in the demand for low-skill labor. He presents evidence refuting the prevailing belief that a substantial shift in demand away from low-skill work characterized the 1980s. Howell asserts that a more compelling explanation for the growing wage gap can be found in fundamental changes in the institutions, practices, and norms that determine labor market outcomes—a return to a confrontational attitude toward labor by management, a shift to a laissez-faire approach to regulatory and redistributive functions by government, and management’s adoption of low-road strategies to cut labor costs in response to competitive pressures.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):David R. Howell
Public Policy Brief No. 28 | November 1996
Wage Insurance for the Working Poor
Barry Bluestone of the University of Massachusetts and Teresa Ghilarducci of the University of Notre Dame show that although the poverty rate for elderly Americans has declined over the past three decades, the total number of persons in poverty has grown and the number of poor nonelderly adults in poverty has nearly doubled since 1970. The authors argue for a comprehensive and coherent strategy aimed at the working poor and those susceptible to highly fluctuating incomes. Two essential components of a wage insurance system already exist in the earned income tax credit (EITC) and the minimum wage. Neither by itself is an ideal solution to the wage poverty problem, but the two programs complement one another. What makes the two fit together so well is that the existence of a higher minimum wage actually reduces the negative productivity, fiscal impact, and moral hazard effects of the EITC, while the EITC makes up for the weak target efficiency and income adequacy of the minimum wage.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Barry Bluestone Teresa Ghilarducci
Public Policy Brief No. 27 | September 1996
The Effects of Monetary Policy on the CPI and Its Housing Component
The targets for monetary policy adopted by the Fed in recent years have not proven to be closely correlated with inflation, leading some theorists and policymakers to advocate the use of a price index, such as the consumer price index (CPI), as both the target and the goal of monetary policy. The authors of this brief show that such a choice is not wise because the CPI does not accurately reflect market-caused price increases and is not under the control of monetary policy. Their analysis extends beyond that of recent reports to show how and why the transmission mechanisms through which monetary policy is thought to affect the CPI are tenuous at best. The authors focus on the housing component of the CPI to illustrate their point. They conclude that those components of the CPI that monetary policy is likely to affect have been declining in importance, meaning that to produce a given reduction in the overall rate of inflation will require that monetary policy have an increasingly larger impact on an ever-diminishing portion of the consumer basket. Therefore, careful reconsideration of an alternative ultimate target, such as the rate of economic growth or the unemployment rate, is warranted.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 26 | July 1996
Reforming Unemployment Insurance: Toward Greater Employment
What is needed to solve the problem of growing long-term unemployment is a two-tiered system that distinguishes between short-term and long-term unemployment. The system should continue to function as an insurance program for 26 weeks to allow workers to search for employment that represents the best match with their experience, skills, and credentials. The first tier of the improved system would include reforms to reduce short-term employment through such means as altering the employer taxes that finance unemployment insurance and instituting work-sharing arrangements in order to reduce the incidence of layoffs and to maintain employment levels during periods of economic decline. The second tier would include services such as reemployment assessment and workshops and training programs to help unemployed workers find work that matches their skills or help them acquire new skills that would make them more marketable. Unemployment insurance benefits beyond 26 weeks would be contingent upon workers’ making use of these services. Levin-Waldman states that the goal of reform is not “merely to achieve greater efficiency in facilitating reemployment, but to enhance a core value of American society: work.”Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Oren Levin-Waldman
Public Policy Brief No. 25 | April 1996
Effects of a Capital Gains Tax Cut on the Investment Behavior of Firms
This brief assesses the effect of a capital gains tax cut on firms’ decisions to undertake new investment projects and the possible effect of such projects on economic growth and employment. The authors' analysis takes into account such factors as projects’ degree of uncertainty, investors’ degree of risk aversion, whether capital gains losses are deductible against capital gains income, whether the market value of an investment project is affected by the imposition of capital gains taxes, and whether the project is financed by internal or external means. They find that there is little theoretical or empirical basis for the view that lowering the capital gains tax rate would have a substantial effect on economic growth or level of economic activity. They estimate that the current proposal to lower the highest capital gains tax rate from 28.0 percent to 19.8 percent would have a long-term effect on the level of output no greater than the impact of roughly two months of normal economic growth, and it would take years to realize even this small benefit. Indexing the rate to inflation would have a somewhat larger, but still small, effect. The authors conclude that capital gains taxes have a negligible influence on investment decisions and dispute the claim that a lower capital gains tax rate would have large beneficial effects on output, growth, or entrepreneurial activity in the US economy.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 24 | February 1996
Proposals for Reforming the International Monetary Institutions
Raymond F. Mikesell outlines the activities of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank over the course of their history and evaluates the organizations' success in meeting their original and subsequent goals. He analyzes the debate over the IMF's role in managing the international monetary system, managing currency crises, and providing credit to newly capitalist countries and examines proposals that the World Bank do more to promote private investment in developing countries, make more loans for expanding social and economic objectives, and improve the efficiency of its operations. Mikesell recommends that (1) the World Bank Group and IMF should be merged to form a single organization, the World Bank and Fund Group (WBFG); (2) neither the IMF nor the WBG should be given responsibility for establishing and managing an exchange rate target zone system or for stabilizing the exchange rates of the major currencies; (3) the establishment of additional institutional constructs to deal with financial crises should be deferred; (4) the WBG should move rapidly to change the composition of its lending by making fewer loans to governments and state enterprises and more loans to the private sector, including nongovernmental, nonprofit entities; and (5) the WBG should be gradually downsized by reducing the number of countries eligible for loans.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Raymond F. Mikesell
Public Policy Brief No. 23 | September 1995
The U.S. Balance of Payments, International Indebtedness, and Economic Policy
According to Wynne Godley, the significance of the deficit in the United States' balance of payments has been underestimated in both public policy and academic discussions, despite the fact that American markets are increasingly dominated by foreign manufacturers. Godley analyzes the problem posed by the current balance of payments deficit. Breaking down the current account into its component parts, he traces the cause of the deficit. He refutes the arguments of other economists that the balance of payments deficit is self-correcting, unimportant, or the result of other domestic forces (namely, too low a level of national saving), and outlines policy approaches to solving the problem. Godley notes that although the strategic problems posed are specific to this country and the United States may have to take unilateral action to solve them, the problems have arisen because there is no significant international regulation of the system as a whole. Inherent flaws have developed in the system of international production, trade, and payments as that system has expanded and become increasingly deregulated. “All the difficulties that exist, or that are foreshadowed in this brief, would be best resolved by energetic international cooperation, of which there is at present little sign.”Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 22 | September 1995
Evaluating the Sources of R&D Spending
Both spending and tax policies have been implemented in the United States with the goal of stimulating private sector research and development (R&D). Thomas Karier questions whether current R&D policy, especially the research and experimentation tax credit, can contribute to closing the gap between nondefense expenditures on R&D in the United States and such expenditures in other countries, such as Japan and Germany. He also explores possible changes to our current R&D policy to make it more effective.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 21 | May 1995
Reforming Welfare by Synchronizing Public Assistance Benefits
In this brief, Oren M. Levin-Waldman examines the structure of existing welfare programs and concludes that the current array of benefits could be synchronized and consolidated to create a new system that would provide economic incentives to work. He suggests combining elements of the earned income tax credit (EITC) and current welfare programs into one program, a consolidated assistance program (CAP). Levin-Waldman argues that a program composed of an assistance component (with one set of benefits for working parents and a different set for nonworking parents) and a child support component could be designed to assure minimal subsistence to those unable to work while providing incentives for those on welfare to work without, in effect, penalizing them for getting off welfare. Such a program would reform welfare more expeditiously than a plan that would simply expand the EITC or put a time limit on welfare benefits. Moreover, such a plan would not necessarily add to the national budget deficit.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Oren Levin-Waldman
Public Policy Brief No. 20 | April 1995
The Balanced Budget Amendment: Toxic, Not Tonic
Charles J. Whalen evaluates the political and economic arguments in favor of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget and concludes that, although today’s federal budget process needs reform, the balanced budget amendment is not a solution. In fact, such an amendment would divert attention from what is really needed, namely, establishing priorities and making difficult decisions concerning the deficit. It would be damaging to both the economic and the political systems of the United States. He recommends budget alternatives—a full-employment budget, an investment budget, a narrowly defined federal capital budget, a biennial budget—that would give the budgeting process more direction and encourage more restraint than the amendment would.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Charles J. Whalen
Public Policy Brief No. 19 | April 1995
Employee Participation and Productivity: Evidence from a New Survey of Japanese Firms
Takao Kato outlines the types of human resource management practices (HRMPs) used in Japan and the effect of these employee participation programs on employee productivity and economic competitiveness. From these findings about the effects of HRMPs on Japanese productivity, Kato draws several conclusions for the direction that American policy might take in order to raise productivity in the United States. He advocates encouraging the diffusion of participatory HRMPs (both information-sharing and financial), supporting these programs once they are adopted, and recognizing the beneficial role of unions in employee participation. As to the role of government in fostering these programs, Kato found that in Japan government has played an informal and indirect role, primarily in the areas of data gathering, information dissemination, and education, rather than a direct role through interventions such as tax incentives (which are currently available to US firms adopting financial HRMPs).Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Takao Kato
Public Policy Brief No. 18 | January 1995
Can We Afford Grandma and Grandpa?
S. Jay Levy presents a preliminary study of the consumption patterns of retirees and nonretirees during the 1980s, paying particular attention to the distribution of the national consumer product. The consumer product increased in aggregate size during the period, but the retirees’ portion of it grew four times faster than the working households’ share. Indeed, the standard of living for much of the working population declined. Levy finds that the incremental portion of the “economic pie” absorbed by retirees is tantamount to a “tax” on nonretirees that falls most heavily on lower-income people. Although analysts anticipate a peak in the proportion of retirees to workers in the population around the year 2025, Levy asserts that problems created by this situation are, to a serous degree, already present. He recommends raising the retirement age and encouraging retirees to engage in public service activities. He believes, however, that the fundamental issue in enlarging the economic pie for everyone is unemployment. Levy cites as results of unemployment the increasingly common early retirement programs and the unwillingness of employers to undertake the costs of training older workers. He also contrasts the policies of the early postwar era that emphasized economic growth and enterprise with contemporary policies that are influenced by the interests of retirees in preserving their income and wealth.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):S. Jay Levy
Public Policy Brief No. 17 | January 1995
The Functional Approach to Financial Reform
The functional approach to reforming the financial system advocates the structural separation of the depository and lending functions of banks. As a result of such a separation, monetary and credit policy undergo a parallel separation, and government supervision and regulation of the banking industry are modified. The policy prescription developed within this approach is narrow banking, the creation of separate monetary and financial service companies with the elimination of or a substantial reduction in deposit insurance. Narrow banking not only meets the safety and soundness goals of bank regulation, but also maintains an institutional structure that accommodates market forces and technological innovation. The author recommends the creation of monetary service companies that would serve strictly a payments function and would hold only safe assets and the establishment by the federal government of a mutual fund that holds only government securities as assets.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Ronnie J. Phillips
Public Policy Brief No. 16 | November 1994
A Financing Plan to Eliminate the Deferred Maintenance on the Nation’s Roads
The author presents a long-term public investment proposal to preserve and upgrade the nation's infrastructure system, offering a unique financing plan to eliminate much of the backlog of deferred maintenance that plagues America’s roads and bridges. The plan would allow states and municipalities to get out from under this burden with a one-time upgrading program, and then attain a new capacity to maintain and improve their infrastructure networks. Regan concludes that the goal of long-term investing is “to make possible sustained growth, improved productivity, and a strengthened private sector” for the next generation. A program to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure base could help the United States achieve this goal.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Edward V. Regan
Public Policy Brief No. 15 | September 1994
Flying Blind: The Federal Reserve’s Experiment with Unobservables
Experience with a variety of targets has cast doubt on the likelihood that a single variable can be found to be closely and reliably linked to future inflation; it is even less likely that such a variable, should it be found, would somehow be under the control and manipulation of the Federal Reserve. This brief provides a review of the experiments with various targets undertaken by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker and current Chairman Alan Greenspan. The authors contend that there is no reason to suppose that the Fed will discover a target variable whose control will yield stable prices. Finally, they conclude that economists lack sufficient information to calculate the costs of achieving stable prices in terms of unemployment and lost output.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 14 | September 1994
Public Capital: The Missing Link Between Investment and Economic Growth
Following up on findings by J. Bradford DeLong and Lawrence Summers that a robust statistical relationship exists between productivity and private sector investment in plant and equipment, the author explores whether there is also a connection between economic growth and public spending. She argues that public investment in infrastructure stimulates private sector investment in plant and equipment. By providing empirical proof that public and private investment are complements in production, Erenburg supplies the missing link that explicitly ties public infrastructure to economic growth.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Sharon J. Erenburg
Public Policy Brief No. 13 | June 1994
Business Tax Incentives and Investments
In this brief, Thomas Karier explores the efficacy of the investment tax credit (ITC) in stimulating private investment spending. He notes that there are three possible channels through which an ITC can act on investment: price, income, and multiplier effects. He finds that ITCs do not appear to have had a significant effect on equipment investment; that the effects of a decline in corporate tax rates (the income effect) were distributed among increased dividends and fewer equity and debt issuances and had little influence on investment; and that capacity utilization and real GDP growth were the only business cycle variables that had a significant effect on equipment investment growth. Based on these findings, Karier concludes that alternatives to tax investment credit programs must be found and pursued. He suggests undertaking a modest program of direct public investment financed by rearranging spending priorities within the budget; a more expansive program could be financed through additional borrowing or through an increase in the corporate income tax.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 12 | May 1994
Community-based Factoring Companies and Small Business Lending
At a time when small businesses are suffering from a credit crunch, “niche” financial institutions are filling the void left by more traditional sources of financing, such as commercial banks. The authors argue that the most important of these niche players are community-based factor companies, which are rapidly expanding from their client base in apparel and textiles to finance a range of firms in everything from electronics to health care. The purchase of accounts receivable by factors enhances the balance sheets of their clients, making it easier for the clients to obtain bank financing. Also, because factors are more interested in the creditworthiness of a client’s customers than of the client itself, they are willing to extend loans in excess of collateral to rapidly growing businesses. Because factors are becoming an increasingly important source of financing for small and start-up businesses, the authors propose that factors be encouraged to play a broader role in financing firms in distressed communities by (1) making some factors eligible for funding and assistance under legislation regulating community development financial institutions and (2) by allowing investments by banks in factors to count toward compliance under the Community Reinvestment Act.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 11 | March 1994
Unemployment and Low Wages: The Distribution of Opportunity for Young Unskilled Workers
Robert M. Hutchens examines three paths by which a young person with limited academic credentials may avoid a life of unemployment and low wages: obtaining additional formal schooling, securing a job that provides secure employment at “good” wages, or acquiring a job that provides skills and thereby opens a door to good future jobs. He finds that the policy most likely to reduce the supply of unskilled labor would include enhancing early childhood education programs, disbursing training vouchers to young adults, and restricting the immigration of unskilled workers. Owing to the difficulty of identifying jobs, occupations, and industries that would consistently result in financial security for those with limited academic skills, Hutchens concludes that, with few exceptions, demand-side interventions will not work.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Robert M. Hutchens
Public Policy Brief No. 10 | November 1993
Is Health Insurance Crippling the Labor Market?
Recent survey results and anecdotal evidence appear to indicate that workers sometimes sacrifice job opportunities by remaining in their current position in order to retain health benefits. If “job-lock” is real, the nation pays an economic price in terms of a misallocation of workersamong productive opportunities, higher relocation and training costs for workers who have stayed too long in their jobs, and the loss of innovation, employment, and competition associated with start-up ventures. Douglas Holtz-Eakin suggests that the incidence of job-lock may be overstated. Therefore, reform programs proposing to dismantle the current system of employer-provided insurance in order to improve labor mobility are misguided. Rather, policy should aim to improve access to health care, improve the efficiency of insurance operations, and guarantee the portability of insurance coverage and premium expenses.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Douglas Holtz-Eakin
Public Policy Brief No. 9 | October 1993
Investment and U.S. Fiscal Policy in the 1990s
The author of this brief offers evidence that policies aimed at stimulating private sector investment through interest rate reductions are, at best, misguided. He concludes that, while there may be benefits from policies aimed at increasing saving or lowering the budget deficit, a higher level of business investment is not one of them. Rather, because of the sizable effects of the business cycle and financial channels on investment, such a program will weaken the economy in the short run and curtail investment, with lower interest rates having little counteracting effect. A similar argument can be made about programs that attempt to reduce interest rates by promoting a rise in saving. If policymakers aspire to raise investment, they should look to actions that affect firms’ access to internal finance directly, such as an investment tax credit.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 8 | September 1993
The Changing World of Banking: Setting the Regulatory Agenda
The authors of this brief propose a series of reforms aimed at making bank regulations compatible with the changing financial system. They present evidence to support their contention that change in the market for financial services has reduced the importance of depositories as they have traditionally operated. A dramatic increase in nonbank competition has contributed to a substantial shrinkage in the proportion of total financial assets held by depository institutions. The authors assert that any reforms should take into account the dynamic nature of the financial marketplace. Effective reforms tackling bank regulation must pass a two-part test: they must protect the payments and credit mechanisms in order to promote systemic stability, and they must promote competition within the financial services industry.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):James R. Barth R. Dan Brumbaugh Jr.
Public Policy Brief No. 7 | June 1993
Immigration and the U.S. Labor Market: Public Policy Gone Awry
Vernon M. Briggs argues that, while mass immigration in the past was consistent with then-existing labor market needs, today it is incompatible with the nation's economic development trends and labor force requirements. He concludes that it is important to shift the emphasis of the legal immigration admission system away from the politically popular family reunification program to one that is designed primarily to serve economic purposes. With an abundant domestic stock of unskilled and undereducated workers, the nation must recognize the long-term economic consequences of unmitigated entry of individuals lacking the human capital attributes that are needed in the domestic labor market.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Vernon M. Briggs Jr.
Public Policy Brief No. 6 | May 1993
The Community Reinvestment Act, Lending Discrimination, and the Role of Community Development Banks
The establishment of a system of federally regulated, for-profit community development banks (CDBs) would help to fill the financial gap in areas inadequately served by traditional banks, requirements of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) notwithstanding. These organizations would be charged with delivering credit, payment, and savings opportunities and providing basic financing to households and small businesses in underserved areas. Such a system would not substitute for the CRA, but rather act as a supplement to current regulation. Proposed exemptions from CRA compliance for depository institutions that invest in the equity of a CDB would weaken the existing law by diluting the investment of the depository institution in its own particular community. Such proposals (under which “investment” has been defined to be as little as one-quarter of one percent of total assets) are not consistent with the spirit of the CRA and would negate the beneficial dialogue that takes place between the institution and the community in which it operates.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 5 | May 1993
Reorganizing the Federal Bank Regulatory Agencies
According to Bernard Shull, although the recent round of banking legislation—most notably the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act (FDICIA)—did take steps toward preventing financial crises, it did not go far enough in the area of unifying the regulatory structure. Shull proposes unifying federal bank regulatory agencies that presently have flexible authority over competing institutions. In essence, the reorganization would integrate monetary policy and deposit insurance authority with the conventional functions of regulation and supervision. Shull contends that such an integration would foster greater efficiency, improved policy planning, and better accountability while protecting against the hazards of excessive concentration of power. Among the possibilities for a consolidated regulatory agency, Shull prefers consolidation in the Federal Reserve because it is the only banking agency whose structure was originally designed to deal with concerns about concentration of power.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Bernard Shull
Public Policy Brief No. 4 | March 1993
Public Capital and Economic Growth, by David Alan Aschauer; New Federal Spending for Infrastructure: Should We Let This Genie Out of the Bottle? by Douglas Holtz-Eakin
This brief presents contrasting views on the effects of public infrastructure investment on private sector productivity. David Alan Aschauer states that the slower rate of productivity growth since the early 1970s—coupled with an aging population, the declining proportion of workers to the total population, and other demographic factors—poses a dilemma for policymakers interested in strengthening the long-term relative position of the United States in an increasingly competitive global economic environment. He considers public infrastructure to be a factor in production and the decline in public capital to be responsible for part of the productivity slowdown. In contrast, Douglas Holtz-Eakin dismisses the conventional arguments for a federal infrastructure program by asserting that a large-scale public infrastructure program has no appreciable effect on productivity growth; in the current fiscal climate of scarce federal resources, a federal infrastructure program is not consistent with the goal of deficit reduction; there are better infrastructure strategies than new spending and massive construction programs; and policies aimed at increasing private rather than public investment will have a more positive impact on US competitiveness.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):David Alan Aschauer Douglas Holtz-Eakin
Public Policy Brief No. 3 | January 1993
A Proposal to Establish a Nationwide System of Community Development Banks
This brief proposes that the establishment of a nationwide system of community development banks (CDBs) would advance the capital development of the economy. The proposal is based on the notion that a critical function of the financial system is not being adequately performed by existing institutions for low-income citizens, inner-city minorities, and entrepreneurs who seek modest financing for small businesses. The primary goals of the CDBs are to deliver credit, payment, and savings opportunities to communities not well served by banks, and to provide financing throughout a designated area for businesses too small to attract the interest of the investment banking and normal commercial banking communities.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 2 | September 1992
U.S. and Global Finance Prospects, by Robert Barbera; The Performance of the Economy Since the October 1987 Crash, by David A. Levy
Robert Barbera and David A. Levy offer contrasting assessments of the United States' economy during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Barbera suggests that the behavior of the economy was typical for the early part of a recessionary stage in a standard business cycle: policymakers and business leaders, believing the downturn to be temporary, prolong economic distress by delaying action to reverse the trend. As hopes of recovery fade, they are forced to take drastic measures; corporations aggressively purge themselves of excesses and the Federal Reserve eases, thereby precipitating an economic rebound. Levy disagrees, asserting that the economic stagnation of that period was not simply a recessionary stage of the business cycle. Such a stage is characterized by overspeculation in inventories or short-term disruptions in demand, not by an extended period of severely reduced economic activity. Levy contends that massive federal government spending and the presence of financial safeguards (such as deposit insurance) were the only things containing the current recession from becoming a depression.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Robert J. Barbera David A. Levy
Public Policy Brief No. 1 | July 1992
Personal Views on Financial Reform, by Anthony M. Solomon; Fundamental Change Little by Little: Banking Evolution, by Alex J. Pollock
To avoid excessive concentration of economic and financial power, Athony M. Solomon recommends institutional and regulatory reform of the financial system by such means as nationwide banking, restrictions on federal deposit insurance, consolidation of financial regulation, balancing numerical standards with supervisory discretion, increased accountability of banks’ management boards, and leveling the playing field across institutions, markets, and countries. Alex J. Pollock notes that technological advances, demographic changes, and other dynamics have not been adequately absorbed in the theoretical or practical functions of financial institutions. He recommends narrow banking as the framework for the optimal banking system.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Anthony M. Solomon Alex J. Pollock